Friday, December 25

Transformation of Earth:7 Tipping Points

1.Polar Sea Ice
Dwindling Arctic sea ice and crumbling Antarctic ice sheets are now a common sight. Whether they signal an impending tip, with rapid melts causing Earth’s seas to inundate heavily-populated coastal plains, is debated. The process appears to accelerate itself: Warming ice melts, which exposes darker areas, causing local temperatures to rise further. But in the Arctic, another feedback may stabilize the ice (Notz, 2009). Though most of the ice “will disappear during summer,” much of it will re-freeze in the winter. Arctic sea ice loss “is likely to be reversible if the climate were to become cooler again.” But Notz is less optimistic about Antarctic sea ice, its undersides heated by eddying Southern Ocean currents. And the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have shrunk suddenly at least twice in the last several million years, a behavior that’s backed up by climate models. It’s “well possible that a tipping point exists for a possible collapse” for those sheets, wrote Notz. It could “render the loss of ice sheets and the accompanying sea-level rise unstoppable beyond a certain amount of warming.”
2.Amazon Rain-forest
As one of Earth’s great carbon sinks, the replacement of Amazon jungles with savannah or forest would drastically accelerate global warming. On their own, rising temperatures and changing weather patterns would not trigger jungle dieback (Malhi, 2009). But deforestation combined with intensified dry seasons leaves forests vulnerable to fire, producing more weather-altering deforestation. According to the report, the dieback of the forests of East Amazonia in the 21st century is far from inevitable but remains a distinct possibility.
3.Bodélé Depression, Chad
Winds whipping across the Bodélé, a 10,000 square mile Saharan plain covered by ancient lakebed sediments, carry 700,000 tons of dust into the atmosphere annually. It floats around the world, blocking sunlight and lowering temperatures in some regions, and causing rain and warming in others. Saharan dust influences Atlantic ecosystems, Caribbean coral reefs and the Amazon. Its full effects are unknown. According to Richard Washington, a specialist in African weather African weather specialist at Oxford University, small atmospheric changes could profoundly alter the behavior of this feature. At one point in the last 10,000 years, dust ceased to flow altogether from the Bodélé. That doesn’t seem to be our problem. Although subject to a great deal of uncertainty, some simulations of the 21st century indicate the potential for a substantial increase in dust production (Washington et al, 2009).
4.South Asian Monsoons
Hundreds of millions of people depend on regular monsoon rains to nourish their crop, but the monsoons are historically capricious. In what is now India and China, they’ve have changed abruptly several times since the Last Ice Age ended. According to Levermann et al, 2009, the monsoon systems amplify themselves i.e. rainfall releases heat, fueling winds that pull more moisture from the seas, producing more rainfall. Small changes can swell monsoons, or nip them in the bud. The model is limited, but its simulations track with history. “We have a long paleorecord for precipitation, and you see that there was almost a switch. The monsoon was either on, or it was off, with very little in between,” said Levermann. Climate change can flip the switch, but it’s not the only cause. “If you turn a forest into a desert, it reflects more sunlight and makes it cooler. Strong air pollution reflects sunlight, and can trigger an event. Both exist in Indian and Chinese regions.”
5.The Gulf Stream
Formally known as the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, or AMOC, the Gulf Stream starts in the Gulf of Mexico and follows the eastern contour of North America before flowing to northern Europe and western Africa. Sudden slowdowns in the circulation occurred repeatedly during the last Ice Age. They were associated with large and abrupt changes in surface climate (Hofmann and Rahmstorf, 2009). Argument exists over whether slowdowns are primarily wind-driven, or could be caused by an influx of fresh water from melting ice sheets. In its last report, the IPCC put the risk of Gulf Stream slowdown during the 21st century at 10 percent. The true figure could be higher, or lower. Model deficiencies make a risk assessment for AMOC changes very difficult at present and require urgent research attention (Hofmann and Rahmstorf, 2009).
6.Seafloor Methane
Between 700 trillion and 10,000 trillion tons of methane hydrate, a powerful greenhouse gas, are trapped in the seafloor sediments where they’ve accumulated over millions of years. If the planet heats by 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit, well within the range of warming possible if greenhouse gas pollution levels remain high, seafloors could heat enough to release a small but significant fraction of the gases. Methane bubbling slowly into the atmosphere could raise planetary temperatures by a full degree Fahrenheit for as much as 10,000 years. According to researchers led by University of Chicago geoscientist David Archer, methane-caused warming would persist even if fossil fuel emissions subsided.“The modeling of methane hydrate is frankly in its infancy,” but it seems “robust to conclude” that mankind could “melt a significant fraction of the methane hydrates in the ocean,” they wrote
7.The Future
“What features establish the identity of a face; what distortions erase that identity beyond recognition?” asked Hans Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research and climate change advisor to German chancellor Angela Merkel. By Earth’s face, Schellnhuber means the environmental conditions that prevailed for most of the last several thousand years. If there’s one dominant theme to the tipping element reviews, it’s that Earth’s face is prone to what he calls “singular transformations.” They’ve happened before. Whether they will happen again, with mankind on board, is the “cardinal question of earth systems analysis [and] sustainability science,” wrote Schellnhuber. How admittedly uncertain models should influence international climate policy is an open question. Levermann counsels caution. “If you entered a plane and the captain said into the speaker, ‘There’s a 10 percent chance this plane will crash,’ you wouldn’t stay in it,” said Levermann. “This is the framework we have to think about when we talk about tipping elements.”

Citations: “Tipping elements in the Earth System.” By Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 106 No. 49, December 8, 2009

Sunday, December 20

Copenhagen Accord:Main Points

Emissions targets
  • To “reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, and take action to meet this objective consistent with science and on the basis of equity”.
  • To “cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries”.
  • Developed countries are to implement individual or joint quantified targets for emissions reduction by 2020, to both 1990 and 2005 base years, and publish them by January 31, 2010.
  • Developing nations are to publish their emissions curbing commitments by January 31 2010.
Developing nations’ action on emissions will undergo only domestic measurement, reporting and verification but will be subject to internationally-agreed standards under the UN climate convention. They would then communicate internationally progress on their commitments every two years.

On deforestation, there should be the “immediate establishment of a mechanism including REDD-plus” to mobilise capital from developed countries for “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation” and enhancing “removals of greenhouse gas emission by forests”.

  • Developed countries are to “support a goal of mobilizing jointly 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries”. This funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance.
  • There will also be 30 billion dollars made available over the three-year period 2010 to 2012 inclusive, balanced between climate change adaptation and emissions mitigation.
  • A new UNFCCC mechanism called the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund will be established to support funded “projects, programmes, policies” on mitigation, REDD-plus, adaptation, capacity building, technology development and transfer.

Technology transfer
A new Technology Mechanism will also be established to further accelerate technology development and transfer under a country-by-country approach.

2015 review
A review of the Copenhagen Accord’s progress must be completed by 2015, and would also consider “strengthening the long-term goal to limit the increase in global average temperature to 1.5 degrees”.


Thursday, October 29


If global warming continues at the current rate, we could be facing extinction. So what exactly is going to happen as the Earth heats up? Here is a degree-by-degree guide as stated by Mark Lynas in his non-fiction book "Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet" 

1 °C Increase Ice-free sea absorbs more heat and accelerates global warming; fresh water lost from a third of the world's surface; low-lying coastlines flooded
Chance of avoiding one degree of global warming: zero.

2 °C Increase Europeans dying of heatstroke; forests ravaged by fire; stressed plants beginning to emit carbon rather than absorbing it; a third of all species face extinction
Chance of avoiding two degrees of global warming: 93%, but only if emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced by 60% over the next 10 years.

3 °C Increase Carbon release from vegetation and soils, speeds global warming; death of the Amazon rainforest; super-hurricanes hit coastal cities; starvation in Africa
Chance of avoiding three degrees of global warming: poor if the rise reaches two degrees and triggers carbon-cycle feedbacks from soils and plants.

4 °C Increase Runaway thaw of permafrost makes global warming unstoppable; much of Britain made uninhabitable by severe flooding; Mediterranean region abandoned
Chance of avoiding four degrees of global warming: poor if the rise reaches three degrees and triggers a runaway thaw of permafrost.

5 °C Increase Methane from ocean floor accelerates global warming; ice gone from both poles; humans migrate in search of food and try vainly to live like animals off the land
Chance of avoiding five degrees of global warming: negligible if the rise reaches four degrees and releases trapped methane from the sea bed.

6 °C Increase Life on Earth ends with apocalyptic storms, flash floods, hydrogen sulphide gas and methane fireballs racing across the globe with the power of atomic bombs; only fungi survive
Chance of avoiding six degrees of global warming: zero if the rise passes five degrees, by which time all feedbacks will be running out of control

SOURCE:Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, by Mark Lynas (2007/08)

Wednesday, October 7


Recent observations show that greenhouse gas emissions and many aspects of the climate are changing near the upper boundary of the IPCC range of projections. Many key climate indicators are already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which contemporary society and economy have developed and thrived. These indicators include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, global ocean temperature, Arctic sea ice extent, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. With unabated emissions, many trends in climate will likely accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.

The research community provides much information to support discussions on “dangerous climate change”. Recent observations show that societies and ecosystems are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities, ecosystem services and biodiversity particularly at risk. Temperature rises above 2oC will be difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and are likely to cause major societal and environmental disruptions through the rest of the century and beyond.

Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid “dangerous climate change” regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of serious impacts, including the crossing of tipping points, and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult and costly. Setting a credible long-term price for carbon and the adoption of policies that promote energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies are central to effective mitigation.

Climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations, and on human societies and the natural world. An effective, well-funded adaptation safety net is required for those people least capable of coping with climate change impacts, and equitable mitigation strategies are needed to protect the poor and most vulnerable. Tackling climate change should be seen as integral to the broader goals of enhancing socioeconomic development and equity throughout the world.

Society already has many tools and approaches – economic, technological, behavioural, and managerial – to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. If these tools are not vigorously and widely implemented, adaptation to the unavoidable climate change and the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies will not be achieved. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to achieve effective and rapid adaptation and mitigation. These include job growth in the sustainable energy sector; reductions in the health, social, economic and environmental costs of climate change; and the repair of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.

If the societal transformation required to meet the climate change challenge is to be achieved, then a number of significant constraints must be overcome and critical opportunities seized. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on climate change; reducing activities that increase greenhouse gas emissions and reduce resilience (e.g. subsidies); and enabling the shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society. Linking climate change with broader sustainable consumption and production concerns, human rights issues and democratic values is crucial for shifting societies towards more sustainable development pathways.


Sunday, June 14



Prof. Dr. Lochan Pd. Devkota
Central Department of Hydrology and Meteorology
Tribhuvan University


Change in local climate of Kathmandu has already been reported in national media. Scientific analysis of climatic indicators is important to confirm the public perceptions. This study attempts to fill the gap by analyzing the rainfall and temperature data of the Valley with a focus on winter season.

As a part of this study, temperature and rainfall data were analyzed. The key findings include increased number of hotter days and decreased number as well as volume of rainy days in winter months (December to February). Incidentally, this year's winter months (December 2008 through February 2009) remained total dry. Though there are rare incidents of this type of severe and longer drought in the history, this one is the second in three years. There is wide belief that such a frequent drought of this scale is the result of climate change. However, defining change in climatic pattern requires analysis of minimum of 30 years of data or more.

Annual temperature growth trend of Kathmandu is already established but the fact that the higher rate of temperature growth of winter season is rarely discussed. In this ground this study is significant in the ground that winter temperature growth in Kathmandu Airport station is statistically significant. Decreased amount of rains or absence of rains throughout winter has been noticed as a cause behind this sharp rise of winter temperature.

In Kathmandu Valley, the winter of 1998/99 was the hottest winter of 20th century with average of 12.26 °C. Normally, the central Valley receives about 33 mm of winter rainfall, while the southern slopes receive over 55 mm in winter. The high hill around the Valley received snowfall on 14th February 2007 first time after 62 years. This event has indicated that extreme events in weather are already experienced in Kathmandu as an effect of climate change.

With the increased frequency of extreme weather events, exposure of the Valley residents has increased significantly for two reasons. First, the alarming growth of Valley population is already coping with serious water shortage problem. The consecutive drought like conditions throughout winter has exacerbated the situation. Therefore the Valley is highly vulnerable to climate change. Unless there is an implementable plan of climate change adaptation, the future of the Valley will be very stressful through water management point of view. To this purpose, adoption of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) is essential to address the challenge.

Key Words: Climate Change; Water Resources; Kathmandu; Temperature; Rainfall

Friday, May 22

Alarming Risk Management to reduce Climate Change Vulnerability

Dramatically in recent years, disaster occurrence and losses associated with extreme and less extreme climate events have increased. Whilst numerous of the rising examples of disaster risk are allied with natural hazards that illustrate no tendency to increases in magnitude and recurrence, human interventions in the natural environment are creating new socio-natural hazards, primarily associated with climate events. In various incidences of new flooding, landslide, drought, forest fire and coastal erosion, environmental degradation has altered natural resources into new hazards. At the same time, the social, economic, regional, physical and political vulnerability of populations continues to deteriorating their capacity to absorb the impact of, and recover from extreme climatic events.

Rapidly increasing levels of disaster losses are beginning to overshadow development growth in countries like Nepal. Nowadays, it is clear that flawed development and environmental practices are at the root of much of the new disaster risk. The areas such as poverty reduction, health and education of the UN Millennium Development Goals will be impossible to achieve unless rigorous efforts are made to manage and lessen the disaster risks related with possible climatic events.

Different scientific records have proved that climate change due to enhanced greenhouse gas emissions is incontrovertible and is evenly well accepted that climate change will alter the severity, frequency and spatial distribution of climate related hazards. Now, there is clear scientific consensus that human–induced climate change is underway and will worsen. The extent of change will be determined by how much more greenhouse pollution we put in the atmosphere. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)2007) report of the world’s most authoritative body of climate scientists confirmed that temperatures have already risen 0.76 degrees centigrade over the past century and is “very likely” (more than a 90% probability) that most of this global warming was due to increased greenhouse gases from human activity. We have experienced eleven of the last twelve years (1995 -2006) rank among the 12 warmest years on record. Similarly, mountain glaciers and snow cover have declined on average in both hemispheres and there is a widespread decrease in glaciers and ice caps have contributed to sea level rise. At continental, regional, and ocean basin scales, numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed including changes in Arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones. The temperature is projected to increase further during the 21st Century. The extent of change will be determined by how much more greenhouse pollution we put in the atmosphere. Under a low emissions pathway, temperature will rise a further 1.1 to 2.9°C. Under a high emissions pathway, temperature will rise a further 2.4 to 6.4°C by 2090.In case of Nepal, the mean annual temperature is projected to increase by 1.3 to 3.8°C by the 2060s, and 1.8 to 5.8°C by the 2090s, and projections of mean annual rainfall averaged the country from different models in the ensemble are broadly consistent in indicating increases in rainfall.

Due to global climate change rapid and turbulent changes in risk patterns in a given region are rarely autonomously generated and may, in numerous cases, be caused by economic decisions taken on the other side of the globe. This territorial complexity of causal factors extends down to include the impacts of national, sectoral and territorial development policies on regions and localities. Gradually and impulsively, human beings have been adapting to the variations in climate but the rapid growth of climatic risk in recent decades resulting effective losses and even interrupting in spontaneous adaptation although the processes of global change are adding new and even more intractable dimensions to the problems of risk accumulation and disaster occurrence and loss, associated with climatic events. As the range of hazards and vulnerabilities faced by any specified community increases, it often becomes probable only to play one kind of risk scenario off against another in search of a less awful scenario. The processes of global change have stacked the odds even higher against successful adaptation. As the fundamental processes of risk become increasingly global, the alternatives available to local communities and other local stakeholders to influence risk generation processes becomes restricted, if not absent.

Atypical practices to manage and lessen climate related risks have been endeavored by the humanitarian, development, environmental and climate change communities. From early 70s the discourse within the broader disaster risk management community has undergone a gradual paradigm transfer from response to improved response preparedness to hazard mitigation to vulnerability reduction to integrated disaster risk management. The risk conscious community has attempted to promote more integrated schemes wherever risk considerations are featured into development programs and the environmental society has increasingly seen the significance of environmental management and good resource use for hazard control and attenuation.

On the other hand, regardless of the awareness raised by the UN International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) in the 1990’s, disaster risks have continued to mount up. Fundamentally, nearly all national and international efforts continue to focus on preparedness and response. Most of the successful experiences of different risk management approaches were piloted have built up a substantial body of knowledge on the theory and practice of risk management in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. If these stories were to be mainstreamed and applied as part of an integrated program then they provide a sight into the future of risk management. In the same way, the scientists and organizations investigating the difficulty of global climate change have progressively expanded their approach from an initial anxiety with the causes of climate change, through a concern with modeling its potential effects. For instance, in terms of sea level rise and desertification, towards a concern with how societies and economies can adapt to changing climatic circumstances. In program terms, this has led, on the one hand, to international efforts, through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to mitigate climate change through reduction of green house gas emissions and on the other hand to the assessment of countries’ vulnerabilities to climate change and the plan of adaptation strategies. In recent years, there has been an increasing pledge to and stress on adaptation rather than just mitigation. Similarly, as the disaster risk management community has failed in practice to significantly move beyond response and preparedness, the climate change community has not yet been able to move beyond fairly theoretical formulations of vulnerability and adaptation, towards concrete plans and program of action.

In Nepal adaptation to climate change and disaster risk management are promoting by totally separate institutional systems. The efforts to plan strategies to adapt societies to the effects of climate change and national and international efforts to manage the disaster risks linked with extreme climate events remain fundamentally detached. At the global level, a search for interaction between objectives and institutional frameworks has been sought with regard to the United Nations’ Environmental Conventions on wetlands, biodiversity, climate change and desertification.

Until and unless, the nation lack capacity to manage and adapt to climate related risks and is already a crucial development concern of the country. And the lack of capacity to manage the risks associated with current climate variability (on a seasonal and annual basis) is the same that will hold back countries from tackling the future increment in the complication and vagueness of risk due to global climate change. In a way, the entire potential of the future already exists like a seed in the present moment. Strengthening national and local capacities to handle climate-related risks is the best strategy to be able to manage additional complexity of climate risk in the future. It is also more feasible to manage an existing risk scenario by mobilizing national and international political and financial resources rather than addressing a hypothetical future scenario. Mid-term and long-term adaptation must initiate now with efforts to improve current risk management and adaptation. Lessons learnt from current practices along with the conception that learning comes from doing are of critical importance.

In above circumstances, integrated climate risk management would facilitates to address both the hazards and vulnerabilities which arrange particular risk scenarios and would sort in scale from actions to manage the local signs of global climate risk, through to global measures to reduce hazard by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for example and to reduce vulnerability, for example, like in case of small island developing states (SIDS) by increasing the social and economic resilience. Integrated climate risk management would need to include elements of defensive risk management (ensuring that future development reduces rather than increases risk), compensatory risk management (actions to mitigate the losses associated with existing risk) and reactive risk management (ensuring that risk is not reconstructed after disaster events). Moreover, it will have to take into account both potential impacts on socio-economic and environmental systems. Integrated climate risk management could provide a framework to let the disaster community to move ahead of the still dominant focus on preparedness and response and for the adaptation to climate change community to move beyond the aim of hypothetical future adaptation strategies. In some countries synergy such as this is already being achieved.

In Nepal, it were accepted that most disaster risk is climate related and that adaptation must refer to the management of existing climate related risks which incorporates elements of and builds on existing frameworks for addressing climate change, disaster reduction, desertification and others. Such a framework needs to start from a clear concept that climate related risk is one of the central development issues of our time and the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) will not be possible unless climate related risks are significantly managed and reduced. The current proliferation of parallel international frameworks and programming mechanisms for addressing what is a holistic development issue is counterproductive if the objective is to strengthen national capacities to manage and reduce climate related risks.

At the local level, integrated climate risk management strategies, plans and program need to be built on the dispersed institutional and administrative mechanisms, projects, human and financial resources currently applied to disaster risk management as well as adaptation to climate change and other related areas such as desertification. The country should develop new programming mechanisms and tools to promote integrated national climate risk management program as well as resource mobilization strategies to ensure that such program can be adequately funded.

Eventually, integrated climate risk management needs to take root at the local level. Most climate related disaster events are small to medium scale and have spatially delimited local impacts. Ultimately, risk is manifested and losses occur at the local level and it is at this level that national and international support to integrated climate risk management has to be realized and capacities strengthened. Concurrently, scaling up needs to occur given the diverse regional base of risk causation.
Climate related risk, provoked by process of global economic and climatic change poses a fundamental uncertain development issue for Nepal. Unless such risks can be managed and reduced the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals will be a vision only.

Existing approaches towards managing disaster risk and adaptation to climate change fail to address the issue for different reasons. The first is still predominantly focused on response to disaster events and fails to address the configuration of hazards, vulnerabilities and risks. Furthermore, mono-hazard approaches exist in contexts more and more exemplified by concatenation, synergy and complexity and there is a great deal to do in order to bring risk management and sustainable development concerns and practices together. The second focuses on the impact of future climate change on risk but fails to make the relation with currently existing climate related risk events and patterns. Simultaneously, both approaches are separated both in concept and in terms of the institutional arrangements and programming mechanisms at the local and national levels.

If development is to be guarded and advanced in areas affected by climate risks, an integrated approach to climate risk management needs to be promoted, building on successful approaches piloted by the disaster risk management community but mainstreamed in to national strategies and programs. Addressing and managing climate risk as it is manifested in extreme events and impacts in the here and now is the most appropriate way of strengthening capacities to deal with changing climate in the future.