International effort to drain dangerous Bhutan lake underlines costs and risks of climate change

Thorthormi Tsho is a glacial lake perched precariously at 4428 metres above sea level in the remote Lunana area of northern Bhutan Rated as one of Bhutan’s likeliest future catastrophes, a breach and outburst flood through Thorthormi Tsho’s unstable moraine walls would most likely spill into the also vulnerable Raphsthreng Tsho 80 metres below, with the combined flood suddenly releasing up to 53 million cubic metres of water and debris into the upper catchment of the Po Chu river.

The first phase of an international project to reduce the risk to a Bhutan valley from the threatening bursting of a growing and increasingly unstable glacial lake is emphasising the huge costs of climate change adaptation in the Himalayas.

In a valley still bearing the scars of a just one third as large 1994 Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) which took more than 20 lives and devastated villages and wrecked transport and power facilities, the prospect is frightening.


Japan greenhouse emissions fell 6.2% last year

Japan’s greenhouse gas pollution fell 6.2 percent in the last financial year, the government said on Wednesday, confirming market views that the worst recession in decades largely contributed to emission cuts.

Emissions in the first year of Japan’s Kyoto Protocol obligations totaled 1.286 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent, compared with a revised 1.371 billion tonnes in the previous year ended in March 2008, a record high.

The 2008/09 figure is approaching the Kyoto goal for the world’s fifth biggest emitter of 1.186 billion tonnes a year.

The government and companies have bought hundreds of millions of tonnes of emissions offsets, helping the country meet its 2008-12 Kyoto target in deals worth billions of dollars at current prices.

“The figure suggests we’re currently at levels sufficiently (low) enough to achieve the target,” said Yasuo Takahashi, who heads the environment ministry’s climate change policy division.

“But we’re not saying that we no longer need to carry out the emission-cut plans,” he said at a news conference after the data was released. “2008/2009 was an unusual year.”

With deflation expected in coming years, there seems little risk of Japan not meeting its Kyoto goals.

The Bank of Japan said in a report last month that Japan will experience three years of deflation, forecasting the economy to contract another 3.2 percent in fiscal 2009/2010 before recovering in the following two years.


Monte Rosa – melting glaciers and changing borders in the Alps

High alpine areas are feeling the impacts of climate change harder and faster than many other areas.

The Monte Rosa massif, one of the highest montains in Europe which sits between Italy and Switzerland, is seeing it borders beeing thrown into confusion.

There are nine glaciers in the massif, including the Gorner glacier, second largest in the Alps but also the glacier that is shrinking the fastest losing 290 metres during 2007 to 2008.

Monte Rosa from WWF on Vimeo.

Glaciers might seem remote, but hundreds of millions of people worldwide depend on them for water supplies.


Barcelona must pave the way for global deal

The UN climate talks in Barcelona, the last ahead of the big conference in Copenhagen, will be a litmus test of whether government leaders have given their delegates a mandate to move towards a legally binding deal that has the potential to save the world from climate change.

Signals from some politicians suggesting the climate deal would not be sealed in Copenhagen but in an unforeseeable future are irresponsible and could trigger a domino effect where one country after another will try to give up and lower the level of ambition.

Countries who will not take action will be responsible for climate chaos, the weakening of the authority of public institutions and finally loss of trust of their populations around the world who believe that these negotiations must have an ambitious and binding outcome.

“Delegates who gathered here must show the rest of the world, their leaders and voters back in their countries that a deal can be made and that an understanding between rich and poor nations is possible,” said Kim Carstensen, the leader of WWF Global Climate Initiative. “We ask them to show unity on key issues including finance, legally binding character of the treaty and ambitious emissions reductions.”

“We call on the delegates to kill the rumors about delaying the deal. They must show that they can do it and show willingness to agree the legally binding climate deal.”

According to WWF the argument that a Copenhagen treaty would not be legally binding is unacceptable.

“After all these months spent in talks and negotiations we cannot come out now and say that all this was just informal chat, can we?” Carstensen said. “A lot of political momentum has been built up around Copenhagen, and the world expects leaders to show courage and cut the deal in Copenhagen. Any talk about delaying the deal is extremely dangerous because it takes pressure off the negotiations.


Yangtze warned to prepare for more droughts, floods and storms

Temperatures across the Yangtze River Basin could increase from 1.5 – 2 Degrees Celsius over the next 50 years, while extreme weather events will also become more frequent, according to the largest river basin climate vulnerability assessment yet done.

The Yangtze River Basin Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Report, released today in Beijing, not only describes the impact of climate change but also offers specific adaptation strategies for the Yangtze.

“Extreme climate events such as storms and drought disasters will increase as climate change continues to alter our planet,” said Professor Xu Ming, the report’s lead researcher.

“Given the complexities and uncertainties associated with climate change, adaptation should firstly consider a ‘no-regrets’ strategy,” which does not require additional cost. If we take the right steps now, adaptation measures will pay for themselves.” he said.

Specific adaptation measures discussed in the report include strengthening existing infrastructure, such as power supply, transportation as well as river and coastal dike reinforcement. Other steps involve promoting Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM), switching to more flexible cropping systems, and reducing human impact on fragile ecosystems.

Data collected from 147 monitoring stations across the 1.8 million km2 river basin points to a 0.33 d.C temperature rise during the 1990s. This hotter weather led to a spike in extreme climate events and flooding across the Yangtze basin, a trend that is expected to become increasingly dire over the next 50 years.

Other findings show that from 2001 – 2005, the basin’s climate grew even hotter, increasing by an average of 0.71 degree C.

According to the new report, wetlands will be the hardest hit. Lower water levels will reduce the number of aquatic birds in the Central and Lower Yangtze while climate change strips wetland ecosystems of important resources.

Other impacts that could affect the 400 million people whose livelihoods depend on the basin include more frequent snowstorms and drought.

‘The Yangtze Vulnerability Assessment is an important symbol of China’s commitment to fighting climate change,” said Mr. James Leape, Director General of WWF-International.

“Beyond setting out the vulnerabilities, the Yangtze assessment also underlines how investment in climate change adaptation is a prudent investment in safeguarding the continuing functioning of a landscape vital to many millions”


Bend it like Beijing

With the climate conference in Copenhagen less than two months away, Pakistani climate expert Adil Najam talks about unresolved issues and explains why he thinks China will save the world.

Adil Najam is the director of the Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future and professor of International Relations, Geography, and Environment at Boston University. Najam was lead author of the third and fourth assessment for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for which the IPCC was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore and other scientists.

The top UN climate official Yvo de Boer recently called China the new leader in fighting climate change. Do you agree?

Yes. I have big hopes in China. China will do things its own way, but ultimately it will do the right thing because it knows it is in its own interests.

China is tackling climate change as a developmental issue; it is not going to cut emissions the way the U.S. or Europe will, because its development trajectory is different. But here is a country that understands climate and takes it very, very seriously.

And it’s a country that is central to the success of the Copenhagen meeting. Beijing has begun bending the curve on its emissions. It is growing, but each new dollar of growth comes with less emissions. In some ways, other developing countries will also have to learn to ‘bend it like Beijing.’

Speaking about Copenhagen, what do you expect from the upcoming UN climate conference?

I think Copenhagen will be an important milestone, but it is not a destination. All of us need to understand climate change is a long-term game, not a sprint. Copenhagen is not the end. Copenhagen is just one pit stop in a longer race.

There are many things that are still undecided: China is undecided, India is undecided, and the U.S. is undecided. A lot of these decisions will need to be made before real headway can be made. That headway may not itself be made at Copenhagen, but if Copenhagen can be a step in the right direction, then it will be worth all the effort.

Has the U.S. stance changed under Barack Obama?

The U.S. stance had already changed even before Barack Obama became President. They’re still not a party to the Kyoto Protocol, but they have slowly begun to accept that they cannot totally sit out of the global climate regime.

That started happening in the last days of the Bush administration, and now under President Obama these processes has speeded up. But clearly it has not speeded up enough. Not yet.

But the economics of climate change have become clearer. Before, the U.S. and others would argue that if we do something big it will cost us a lot. Now, over the last two or three years, we have come to realize that if we don’t do anything it might cost us even more. That is the biggest change.


Cabinet to meet at Everest Base Camp

The government is preparing to hold a cabinet meeting at the base camp of Mount Everest next month in order to draw attention of the world towards the impact of climate change, a cabinet minister said.

According to forest minister Deepak Bohara, the cabinet members will be flown to Everest Base Camp by a helicopter. The agenda of the meeting will also be issues of climate change.

The objective of the meeting at Everest Base Camp is to draw world’s attention towards the impact of climate change in the Himalayas, minister Bohara said. We will discuss various ways to mitigate the impact of climate change using our resources.

The meeting at EBC will be organised before the conference on Climate Change in the Himalayas at Copenhagen to be organised on the occasion of International Mountain Day on December 11.

Last week Maldives’ cabinet had met underwater for a similar cause.