Thursday, November 14, 2013

What does Typhoon Haiyan tell us about adapting to climate change?

The Toronto Star asked "how much of the tragedy [of Typhoon Haiyan] was caused by nature, and how much was caused by human actions?"

Here was my answer:

Canada and other developed countries are good at disaster relief. When news of Typhoon Haiyan reached our shores, the Canadian government and the Canadian people opened their wallets and their hearts. Disaster relief, however, is a band-aid, not a cure. If we want to adapt to a climate with higher storm surges, more intense rainfall and stronger winds, we need to be proactive, not reactive. We need to provide the resources to build the knowledge, institutions and infrastructure to help make countries like the Philippines more resilient to future storms. That project requires consistent, long-term technical, political and financial support.

At the UN climate talks two years ago, the developed countries promised to mobilize $100 billion/yr by the year 2020 to help the developing world respond to climate change. Right now, we are nowhere near that target. The devastation of Typhoon Haiyan should serve as an example to the negotiators at this year’s climate talks in Warsaw of that consistent, long-term support for adaptation in the developing world is so necessary.


The Old Man is back said...

Hi Simon,
What it probably tell us is that no politician in a developed nation will vote to contribute to adaptation funding unless he/she knows for certain that failing to do so will cost votes. The public needs to pass on the sense of responsibility and empathy to their representatives in clear, unequivocal terms, such as "If I can't trust you to look after the most vulnerable, I can't trust you to look after me, therefore either show your humanity or lose my vote forever". That might help.

Dan said...

Daily Climate talks about climate funding as a 'red line' for developing countries. I've lost the link, but I also recall reading this week of e.g. US politicians saying: in the current financial climate, that just wasn't going to happen. So - another reason for the talks to fail? Recall that the wheels came off global trade talks for much the same reason: powerful countries used to getting their way in negotiations came up against a resurgent developing world, backed by emerging new powers in BRICs countries and elsewhere.

I think they're morally right to hold that red line given first-world climate responsibility. I'm not sure I see that translating into global climate agreement. Hope I'm wrong.

david lewis said...

You didn't answer the question.

What people want to hear is something more meaningful than no particular weather event can be attributed to climate change.

If no particular event can be attributed, people wonder, does that mean nothing at all can be attributed to climate change, i.e. is the whole climate change concern bogus, as so many "leaders" in politics and business proclaim?

Can't we do better than this?

Consider these two recent statements made by Kevin Trenberth, for instance, in this paper where he says "the answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be".

Contrast that statement with what Trenberth said to an NPR interviewer just before the latest IPCC report was published: "Jim Hansen famously went before Congress [ in 1988 ] and declared that the drought [ the 1988 US drought ] was due to global warming, essentially. And I wrote a paper, along with two others, that appeared in Science magazine which basically said it wasn't".

Trenberth appears to believe that saying he famously disagreed with Hansen in 1988 is a reason people should pay attention to him now.

Yet if climate change caused by humans is real, it was happening in 1988, as it is now. If climate change is a factor in all weather events now as Trenberth now asserts, it was a factor in the 1988 US drought, even though he said otherwise at the time.

Trenberth seems to think people will take him more seriously if he tells them he famously disagreed with Hansen way back when. I think he just confuses people, if they pay attention.

Again: can't we do better than this?

Simon Donner said...

Thanks David. You're right, my answer is tangential. They were looking for a range of perspectives; my instructions were to reflect on an area of my work, namely our work adaptation to climate change in the developing world. I should have been explained that above.

On the question of attribution: all weather is influence by climate change. The atmosphere and the oceans are operating differently because of human activity. How that gets manifesting in individual events is complicated. For tropical cyclones, we should think about the storm surge, which is certainly larger if the ocean is higher. I talked about this with the Georgia Straight, albeit not it the most articulate manner!

Simon Donner said...

Thanks Fergus and Dan. It's important to note that the $100 billion/yr is money the developed world has pledged to "mobilize". It was proposed to flow proposed to flow through multiple channels,
including existing development banks, official development assistance, bilateral programs,
international private investment flows(e.g., carbon markets), and other public and private mechanisms. In other words, these can be investments, rather than straight up donor funds.

Dan said...

Relatedly, Japan's announcement about its carbon targets - the striking part of this being, as Bloomberg puts it:

"Japan seeks to double in three years the number of countries with which it has a bilateral arrangement to offset its emissions in exchange for clean-energy technology, according to documents released at a briefing in Tokyo."

Clearly, using climate money "mobilisation" as a form of offset is a dreadful precedent. A worrying precedent, though perhaps heartening that so many other governments have been very visibly saying Japan's making a mistake - e.g. here's the UK's Ed Davey.

Simon Donner said...

The $100 billion is to "respond" to climate change, which implies adaptation and mitigation. Under that definition, clean energy investments in the developing world counts, provided it is new and additional (i.e. not something Japan would have done anyway, which is hard to prove).

Also counting those investments as mitigation in the developed world is more questionable, given all of the problems with the CDM, the problems with double counting, additionalilty, etc. It might smell bad but technically, the proposal could work.

The Old Man is back said...

Actually, Japan is already in the developing world/renewables market, at early stages. Further, there is a huga amount of cheap investment capital coming out of the country at the moment looking for a new home. Renewables is likely to be one of the targets.