Archive for January, 2016

Farmers in Crisis

tractor

It is a perilous time to be a farmer. Across the world, 2015 broke records for unseasonal, unprecedented, and unexpected weather. The combination of El Niño and climate change produced conditions with devastating effects for the agriculture sector around the globe. This article examines the impacts of unseasonal weather on farmers around the world, in losses to yield quality and quantity but also in economic, physical and psychological effects for farmers coping with the “new normal” in weather. It considers regional differences in farmers’ susceptibility to unseasonal weather, and presents the implications of the lack of resiliency of the major crop producers for the future of food security, and by extension, political stability. Finally, it looks at how the international community is addressing this situation, concluding with practical and achievable means for farmers and cooperatives to start to build resiliency to climate change today.

Farmers around the world experience significant losses from extreme weather

It is the prize that the world did not want to see given. Nonetheless, 2015 proved to have no limit to its unseasonal and unprecedented weather. Based largely on a combination of a strong El Nino and human-induced global warming, global average surface temperatures exceeded all previous on record to reach the symbolic and significant milestone of 1°C above the pre-industrial era.

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The winners and losers of El Niño

ski

As 2015 wound to a close, it was assigned to the record books as the world’s warmest year. Of course, global warming is widely considered to be at play, but meteorologists are particularly interested in the strength of this year’s El Niño, which has exacerbated droughts in some areas, increased floods in others, and led to an unusually mild winter in North America and Europe. The effects of this unusually warm winter on the world economy are representative of the diverse financial consequences of El Niño and of climate variability generally, with weather being blamed for increased production costs, reduced revenues, and reduced GDPs. The question for each of these companies is whether they were prepared for El Niño and integrated weather risk management into their development strategies.

Exploring the El Niño phenomenon

El Niño is well known as a cyclical phenomenon that occurs about once or twice per decade that sees the warm waters of the central Pacific expand eastwards towards North and South America. During the summer period, it increases the risk of decreased rainfall in the Eastern Pacific (India, Indonesia and in the northern part of Australia), and conversely, it rains more in the southern United States and on the west coast of South America. In winter, when El Niño peaks, temperatures are abnormally high in North America and Europe, and there is more intense storm activity in the Gulf of Mexico. It is also accompanied by intense rains. El Niño leads to a significant increase in the number, duration and intensity of weather anomalies around the world.

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Storm in a teacup

flood UK dec. 2015

It’s being called the “great flood of 2015”, as Britain has been pummelled by seven storms this winter, including Abigail, Barney, Clodagh, Desmond, Eva and Frank. Further, emergency services and volunteers have been working around the clock to deal with the immense damage caused by the opening of a barrier on the River Foss on Boxing Day for a four-day period, flooding a large swath of York, in a controversial attempt to stop the flood spread caused by the downpour. In total, more than 180 flood warning and flood alerts are now in place across the UK and 27 “danger to live” warnings are in effect across central and norther England and Wales.[1]www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/uk-weather-nasa-satellite-image-7085048

Along with the floodgates, many questions have been raised as a result of the catastrophic financial consequences of the storms of this winter regarding the state of preparedness of the UK’s public and private sector in responding to climate change today. They concern not just how the flood defences are inadequate to handle the “new normal” of more severe and frequent extreme weather events facing the UK, but how risk management solutions such as flood insurance are failing the public as the full extent of the total uninsurable losses, and the slowness in getting EU and national grants and insurance payments to those in imminent need, is revealed. They both point to the need to explore what financial solutions are available to enable the UK to mitigate climate risk and buy time in the short term while investing in the environmental solutions that scientists have already identified as necessary to reduce climate change in the long-term (eg. replacing the use of fossil fuels with renewables and restocking carbon sinks).

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