Tag Archives: Climate change

Après le deluge: the UK winter storms of 2013–14

By Klaus Dodds, Royal Holloway University of London

Spurn Head on the Humber being broken by the December 2013 Storm Surge Photo Credit: Environment Agency (reproduced with permission)

Spurn Head on the Humber being broken by the December 2013 Storm Surge Photo Credit: Environment Agency (reproduced with permission)

The UK winter floods of 2013-14 were unquestionably severe caused by winter storms that brought with them record levels of rainfall and long standing flooding to southern England, most notably the Somerset Levels. Other parts of the UK were also affected, coastal towns in Wales were battered by stormy weather and parts of the Scotland also recorded some of the highest levels of rainfall ever recorded. Political leaders of all the main parties were swift to visit affected areas, and the government organization responsible for flood management the Environment Agency and its embattled chief Lord Smith endured a barrage of criticism for late and or inadequate flood preparation, warnings and responsiveness. For weeks, stories and images of the flood and its impact on communities and infrastructure filled the airwaves. Some communities were affectively cut off while others lost their homes and possessions. The insurance industry estimated that the cost of the flooding exceeded £1 billion but it was lower than the estimated cost of the 2007 summer floods, which were put at over £3 billion.

As a recent themed section on the UK winter floods 2013-4 published in The Geographical Journal argues, there is a great deal more analytical work to be done in terms of how we make sense of such extreme events and what we might learn in the aftermath. One noticeable element in the 2013-4 winter storms was the presence of social media and the role that tweeting and Facebook played in raising flood awareness (#floodaware #thinkdontsink) and the sharing of images and stories relating to the flooding. This autumn the Environment Agency has taken again to social media to warn audiences about flood risk and prevention measures. Citizens, in potentially affected areas, are encouraged to check the real time mapping and monitoring of rivers and coastlines.

Combining historical and cultural geographers with fluvial geographers and hydrological modellers, the themed section ruminates on the social, economic, political and physical geographies of the flooding and the storm surges. It poses questions not only about how flooding is understood (both scientifically and culturally) but also how it impacts on communities and landscapes, some of whom enjoyed greater publicity than others. Campaigners for the affected Somerset Levels were particularly successful in generating media attention, as were home-owners and businesses along the River Thames. Flood geographers, as we might term it, are also in the thick of things when it comes to flood forecasting and advising agencies on how government and communities should prepare in the future for such extreme events. Preparedness combined with individual and communal resilience have been championed as indispensable and perhaps social media provided a resource of sorts for such resilience as people shared advice and experiences of flooding.

But as our themed section also shows that rivers including flood plains are complex and lively spaces. They vary in terms of flood risk vulnerability and this is as much to do with their materiality as it is due to historic and contemporary patterns of human occupation. For centuries, humans have intervened in such environments and introduced flood embanking, channel dredging, and manipulated the volume and flow speed of rivers. Moreover coastal environments have experienced a patchwork of interventions from hard to soft forms of coastal engineering. We have, over the years, sought to intervene in order to mitigate, and even prevent unwelcome futures.

Lets hope if severe winter storms affect the UK again in 2014-5 we will be able to conclude that we are somewhat wiser as a consequence of our experiences in the winter of 2013-4.

About the author: Klaus Dodds is a Professor of Geopolitics within the Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London. Klaus is also the Editor of The Geography Journal.

The Geographical Journal themed section in full:

books_icon Dodds, K. (2014), Après le deluge: the UK winter storms of 2013–14. The Geographical Journal, 180: 294–296. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12126

books_icon Thorne, C. (2014), Geographies of UK flooding in 2013/4. The Geographical Journal, 180: 297–309. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12122 (open access)

books_icon Stephens, E. and Cloke, H. (2014), Improving flood forecasts for better flood preparedness in the UK (and beyond). The Geographical Journal, 180: 310–316. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12103

books_icon Lewin, J. (2014), The English floodplain. The Geographical Journal, 180: 317–325. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12093

books_icon McEwen, L., Jones, O. and Robertson, I. (2014), ‘A glorious time?’ Some reflections on flooding in the Somerset Levels. The Geographical Journal, 180: 326–337. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12125

books_icon Clout, H. (2014), Reflections on The draining of the Somerset Levels. The Geographical Journal, 180: 338–341. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12088

Other references:

60-world2 Ugwumandu J (2014) Severe winter weather to cost UK insurers £1.1bn, says ABI The Actuary, 13 March 2014

60-world2 Gov.uk (2014) Check flood warnings and river levels  

The UK’s response to a rapidly-changing Arctic

By Richard Hodgkins, Loughborough University

Brøggerbreen: Photo credit: Richard Hodgkins

Brøggerbreen: Photo credit: Richard Hodgkins

The House of Lords has established an Arctic Committee, with a remit to “consider recent and expected changes in the Arctic and their implications for the UK and its international relations”. The Committee has already started taking evidence, and has just issued a call for written submissions. The UK has more of a natural claim to be interested in the Arctic than many probably realise: it is the northernmost country outside of the eight Arctic States, with the northern tip of the Shetland Islands being only 400km south of the Arctic Circle. The House of Lords’ interest largely stems from the rapid environmental changes evident in high northern latitudes, which are warming at least twice as quickly as the global average (Jeffries et al., 2013). In fact, as I argue in my recent commentary published in The Geographical Journal, the Arctic is almost uniquely susceptible to rapid change brought about through climate warming, mostly as a result of strong, positive feedbacks driven by the loss of snow and ice (Hodgkins, 2014). A greatly more accessible, ice-free Arctic Ocean particularly holds out the prospect of significant geopolitical change in the high North in the coming decades. Given current tensions between Russia and the west, this change may not necessarily be achieved harmoniously.

Our response to a changing Arctic should of course be informed by thorough understanding, free from assumptions, misconceptions or fallacies. It should not therefore be assumed that warming, by ameliorating the Arctic, will necessarily “improve” its environment or ecosystem. For instance, sea ice loss, warmer sea-surface temperatures and greater accumulation of freshwater are likely to stratify the ocean, preventing the free cycling of nutrients from shallow to deep and actually limiting biological productivity: “A warming Arctic… will simply be an ice-free version of the desert it already is” (Economist, 2013). Furthermore, the strong, positive feedbacks of “Arctic amplification” ensure that the actual atmospheric temperature increase in high northern latitudes will be much greater than the global average. Under a business-as-usual scenario, a mean 3.7°C global average temperature increase is likely by the 2090s. This implies a warming of 9°C over large parts the Arctic (IPCC, 2013). This rate of warming – which is not a worst-case scenario – exceeds anything previously encountered during human occupation of the Arctic. Terra incognita et mare incognitum, our response to the changing Arctic cannot be anything other than unprecedented; it’s to be hoped that it’s also wise.

About the author: Dr Richard Hodgkins is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography at the University of Loughborough. 

60-world2 The Economist. 2013. Tequila Sunset.

books_icon Hodgkins, R. 2014. The 21st-century Arctic environment: accelerating change in the atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial spheres. The Geographical Journal, in press.

books_icon IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). 2013. Summary for Policymakers. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

books_icon Jeffries, M., Overland, J., Perovich, D. 2013 The Arctic shifts to a new normal. Physics Today 66, 35‒40.

Moving towards a living wage in the UK

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

4.9 million people in the UK earn less than the living wage (image credit: By George Hodan, via Wikimedia Commons)

On 18th October 2014, thousands of people took to the streets of London for a mass demonstration, arguing that “Britain Needs a Pay Rise” (BBC News, 2014). In their 2008 report for the Institute for Public Policy Research, Working out of Poverty, Lawton and Cooke found that, for the first time, more people in work are below the poverty line than those out of work. A report by The Resolution Foundation, Low Pay Britain 2014, states that as many as 1 in 5 workers or 5.2 million people earn less than than £7.70 an hour. Last year, the number of people in low-paid work (defined as less than two thirds of median hourly pay) rose by 250,000.

Wills and Linneker, writing in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers in 2014,  describe a living wage as one that reflects the local cost of living and the real cost of life. It is an instrument of pre-distribution, rather than using the state’s mechanisms to re-distribute wealth as a way of alleviating in-work poverty. Wilkinson and Pickett (2010) argue that Governments would be better advised to minimise the production of inequality to start with, rather than spending billions of pounds in welfare initiatives to ‘mop-up’ after the party.

Wills and Linneker write that in the UK, the living wage campaign has targeted both private and public sector employers, and the campaign is gaining pace. The Greater London Authority (GLA) has applied the living wage across its own supply chain to include the Metropolitan Police Authority, the London Fire Brigade and Transport for London. The Living Wage Foundation has been pivotal in deepening the impact and spreading the demand of the campaign through the participation of a wide coalition of champions, including Trust for London, Save the Children, Queen Mary, University of London, KPMG and Linklaters.  Flint et al. (2014), writing in the Journal of Public Health, find significant differences in psychological wellbeing between those who did, and didn’t, work for London Living Wage employers.  Recent figures show that the campaign has a long way to go.

Wills and Linneker argue that, “in the context of a Conservative-led coalition government, along with on-going economic malaise and a weak trade union movement, the demand for a living wage probably represents the best route to reducing the extent and impact of in-work poverty, and ultimately, the degree of inequality within the UK” (2014: 187-188).  By taking on a geographical perspective, the authors find that the living wage is a spatial intervention, which attempts to set a new moral minimum for wages across a labour market in a particular locality. They highlight how the impact of the living wage at one scale is very different to that experienced at other dimensions, and this shapes the arguments to be used in its defence. The living wage also raises important questions for geographers seeking to understand poverty and its potential solutions, as it can “put the scourge of economic injustice and inequality at the heart of political campaigning at all spatial scales” (2014: 192).

60-world2Low paid Britons now number five million, think tank concludes BBC News, September 27

60-world2A. Corlett and M. Whittaker 2014. Low Pay Britain 2014. The Resolution Foundation

books_iconE. Flint, S. Cummins and J. Wills 2012. Investigating the effect of the London living wage on the psychological wellbeing of low-wage service sector employees: a feasibility study. Journal of Public Health. 36 (2):187-193. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdt093

60-world2K. Lawton and G. Cooke 2008. Working Out of Poverty: A study of the low-paid and the ‘working poor.’ Institute for Public Policy Research.

books_icon

R. Wilkinson and K. Pickett K 2010. The spirit level: why equality is better for everyone Penguin, London

books_iconJ. Wills and B. Linneker 2014. In-work poverty and the living wage in the United Kingdom: a geographical perspective. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers39 (2): 182–194. doi: 10.1111/tran.12020. 

izabeladelabre

September 24, 2014

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

People’s Climate March, New York City March 2014 (image credit: South Bend Voice Flickr)

On the eve of the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September, the city saw an estimated 400,000 people take to the streets in the largest climate change march in history. Marchers gathered in cities across the world to call for ambitious action on climate change policy: 40,000 in London, and 30,000 in Melbourne. In Tanzania, the Maasai marched across their traditional lands to draw attention to the protection of their homelands in the Serengeti from climate change impacts.

These marches indicated the public’s frustration of political failure to reach, and implement, effective climate deals, and this anxiety is compounded by stark warnings from the academic community.  In Nature Geoscience, Friedlingstein et al. (2014) write that global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production have, on average, grown by 2.5% per year over the past decade. Two thirds of the CO2 emission quota consistent with a 2°C temperature limit has already been used, and it is predicted that the total quota will likely be exhausted 30 years from now, using 2014 emissions rates. Friedlingstein et al. find that carbon intensity improvements of emerging economies have been lower than anticipated, and warn that without more strict mitigation measures, these trends will continue.  Therefore, they stress, a break in current emission trends is urgently needed in the short term, to keep within the 2°C temperature limit.

The Global Carbon Budget 2014 found the top five CO2 emitters to be China, USA, EU, India and the Russian Federation. In a BBC article, Professor Corinne Le Quéré from the University of East Anglia stated that a significant proportion of China’s emissions were driven by demand from consumers in Europe and the USA: “In China, about 20% of their emissions are for producing clothes, furniture even solar panels that are shipped to Europe and America.”  Writing in Geography Compass in 2008, Kaplinsky stated that the distribution of income in China moved from being one of the world’s most equal to one of the world’s most unequal economies in a couple of decades. Kaplinsky argued that China and other Asian emerging economies must be included in discussions of global governance.  Six years later, during this week’s Climate Summit, China for first time pledged to take action on climate, with the aim for reducing its emissions of carbon per unit of GDP by 45% by 2020.

Given the impacts of globalization on climate, poverty, and inequality, and considering the scale of the impacts of climate change, the report New Climate Economy: Better Growth, Better Climate puts forward areas in which international co-operation has the potential to make a significant impact on the prospects for low-carbon and climate-resilient growth, as well as a ten-point action plan. The report states that national economic policies will need to be significantly revised in the next 15 years, when the global economy is expected to grow by more than half. On the day of the report’s release, President Obama tweeted, “This study concludes that no one has to choose between fighting climate change and growing the economy”.

Writing for The Guardian Sustainable Business, Professor Tim Jackson argues that the report is framed around the “dubious claim that we can have our cake and eat it,” and highlights how improving our prosperity might not be at all synonymous with growing the economy. Lord Stern, one of the authors of the New Climate Economy report states that in order to prevent runaway climate change, we need to develop broader measures of success, widen our vision of prosperity and return to core values, but it is critical that growth is included as an objective. The two defining challenges of this century are poverty and climate change, and “if we fail on one, we fail on the other.”

 

60-world2P. FriedlingsteinR. M. AndrewJ. RogeljG. P. PetersJ. G. CanadellR. KnuttiG. LudererM. R. RaupachM. SchaefferD. P. van Vuuren and C. Le Quéré 2014. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targetsNature Geoscience. Advance online publication doi:10.1038/ngeo2248 

books_iconR. Kaplinsky 2008. Globalisation, Inequality and Climate Change: What Difference Does China Make? Geography Compass 2(1): 67–78.

60-world2C. Le Quéré, R. Moriarty, R. M. Andrew, G. P. Peters, P. Ciais, P. Friedlingstein, S. D. Jones, S. Sitch, P. Tans et al. 2014. Global carbon budget 2014 Earth Systems Science Data. Discussion Paper, 7: 521-610.

60-world2The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate 2014. Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report

60-world2China’s per capita carbon emissions overtake EU’s BBC News, September 21

60-world2Hundreds of Thousands Converge on New York to Demand Climate-Change Action Time, September 23

60-world2Lord Stern: global warming may create billions of climate refugees Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22

60-world2The dilemma of growth: prosperity v economic expansion Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22

60-world2UN climate summit: China pledges emissions action BBC News, September 24

Ordering vulnerability: transitions in flood risk management

By Helen Pallett 

Hemsby flooding

Picture from the Guardian

On Thursday December 5th the east coast of the UK was battered by high winds and rain, causing a tidal surge which flooded many homes and caused wide-spread travel disruption. It is estimated that 1400 properties were flooded, with some of the worst damage being experienced on the Norfolk coast where several towns were evacuated and where seven houses were lost to the sea in the village of Hemsby.

Like earlier extreme flooding and tidal surge events, the most recent storm raises pressing questions about the relative responsibilities of the government, private insurance companies and individual home-owners for both assessing and managing the risks of flood damage. Memories of the 1953 North Sea flood, where a tidal surges over-topped sea defences and led to the deaths of more than 300 people, have been frequently evoked this week. It was after this flood that British government was forced to reassess its responsibilities towards those living in areas vulnerable to future flooding and storm surges, and consequently embarked on a programme of constructing flood and sea defences across the country.

According to a recent paper by Tom Ball, Alan Werritty and Alistair Geddes in the journal Area, this paradigm of hard-engineered flood defences was dominant until 2004, when a number of factors such as the projected impacts of climate change, the unexpected impacts of certain engineering solutions and the prohibitive cost of sustaining flood defences around all vulnerable settlements led this approach to be de-emphasised. The approach moved towards bolstering the resilience of vulnerable communities, rather than offering comprehensive protection, creating a much greater role for the insurance industry in mediating flood risk and vulnerability, along other ‘softer’ management approaches.

This transitional arrangement between the Government, private insurers and home-owners shifted again with the 2007 summer floods in the UK which are thought to have cost insurers £1.7 billion. In the aftermath of the floods the Government intervened to encourage insurance providers to agree to a ‘Statement of Principles’, where they committed to adopting a cross subsidy between homes in low and high risk flooding areas, rather than simply refusing to ensure or charging astronomically high premiums for those most vulnerable to flood damage. The relevance of this fragile settlement to the most recent storm, is that this Statement of Principles expired in June of this year, creating the possibility for yet another transition in how the burden of risk and vulnerability management is shared between our three central actors.

Following last week’s floods, the Observer newspaper reported on the Government’s new flood insurance scheme, which is designed to cater for houses in high risk flooding areas which will no longer be covered by conventional private insurance schemes. As Ball et al point out in their paper, the UK is unusual in not having had provision for state-subsidised flooding insurance until now. However, as the Observer reported, this new government insurance scheme seems unlikely to produce any long-lasting settlement in the management of flood risks and vulnerabilities, as it proposes to cover only 500,000 homes; a much smaller figure than the number of homes projected to experience a high risk of flooding in the 2020s by the Government’s own climate change impacts assessment.

The history of approaches to flood risk and vulnerability over the last 60 years alerts to the ways in which the methods, rationalities and bureaucratic arrangements have shifted substaintially over time. However, it is also important to be attentive to how these moves have interacted with changing relationships between the state, insurance providers and ordinary citizens in the face of the threat of flooding, and the different degrees of responsibility and financial burden these sometimes subtle changes place on each actor.

books_icon Tom Ball, Alan Werritty & Alistair Geddes 2013  Insurance and sustainability in flood-risk management: the UK in a transitional state Area, 45(3): 266-272

60-world2 Half a million homes at risk are not covered by flood scheme Observer, 7 December

60-world2 UK flood defences praised for saving lives and property on east coast Guardian, 6 December

60-world2 Storms, floods and tidal surge devastate the UK’s east coast in pictures Guardian, 6 December

60-world2 Norfolk floods: seven Hemsby homes badly damaged by waves BBC News, 6 December

Adapting to coastal change: understanding different points of view in coastal erosion management

by Mark Tebboth

The devastating flooding in central Europe is a powerful example of the destruction that extreme weather can cause. Yet, finding agreement on the best way to protect citizens, infrastructure and nature from the sort of events witnessed in Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic is a difficult, sometimes impossible, balancing act. As an article published in February in The Guardian newspaper put it ‘Floods kill, wreak havoc and cost billions. And we know they’re coming. So why aren’t we doing anything about them?’ Happisburgh, a small village on the East Anglian coast, is typical of some of the issues highlighted in The Guardian article. The village has lost a number of homes and other structures in recent years (compare the pictures from 1996 and 2012) and is suffering from the consequences of coastal erosion. However, despite the urgency of the situation, it has not been possible to arrive at a solution that is acceptable to all involved.

Happisburgh in 1996, 2006 and 2012 during which time it has lost a number of sea front properties (copyright Mike Page)

Happisburgh in 1996, 2006 and 2012 during which time it has lost a number of sea front properties (copyright Mike Page)

The inability of stakeholders to agree a way forward can be explained, in part, by the different ways in which the issue of coastal erosion is framed. For example, the Coastal Concern Action Group (CCAG), a local pressure group based in Happisburgh, highlights the problems caused by a lack of investment in sea defences. Conversely, the UK Government tends to emphasise the inevitability of coastal erosion, citing causes such as nature or climate change. By highlighting different causes as primarily responsible for coastal erosion these two stakeholders gravitate towards different solutions: increased and more appropriately targeted investment if a lack of investment is the problem and a different management approach if coastal erosion is inevitable. How is it that these two stakeholders, with access to similar information can have such different perspectives?

The different views held by institutions such as CCAG or the UK Government are, in part, determined by their implicit beliefs or how they think the world works. These beliefs help institutions to make sense of the world around them and can act as short cuts when to trying to understand complex issues. In the case of Happisburgh, this might explain why dredging is seen as a critical issue for one party (CCAG) but is barely on the radar of the other (UK Government).

In policy conflicts, revealing some of the more underlying beliefs that stakeholders rely on to support a particular point of view can helpfully inform governance and communication approaches leading to more realistic, acceptable and better designed solutions. For Happisburgh, this could mean a reframing of the issue of coastal erosion to focus on the more recent successes that have been realised through the Pathfinder Programme, rather than past failures. Such an approach offers potential to rebuild trust and understanding between the different stakeholders, increasing the chances of a more positive outcome.

The author: Mark Tebboth is a PhD student at the School of International Development affiliated with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia.

books_iconTebboth M 2013 Understanding intractable environmental policy conflicts: the case of the village that would not fall quietly into the sea The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12040

60-world2Harvey F 2013 Floods: a disaster waiting to happen The Guardian 2 February

60-world2North Norfolk District Council 2012 Happisburgh North Norfolk Pathfinder

60-world2Weeks J 2013 Floods cause chaos across Europe – in pictures The Guardian 6 June

No change from climate change: island vulnerability

Eroding shoreline in Samoa, the Pacific (photograph: Ilan Kelman)

Eroding shoreline in Samoa, the Pacific (photograph: Ilan Kelman)

by Ilan Kelman

Climate change is often touted as humanity’s biggest development challenge. Low-lying, tropical islands are particularly highlighted as potentially experiencing future devastation. How accurate is this rhetoric?

No doubt exists that many islanders are suffering under climate change. Residents of the Carteret Islands, Papua New Guinea have been forced to move as sea-level rise encroaches on their villages.

Many other island locations are also experiencing climate change impacts, but in tandem with other development challenges which have existed for decades. Also in the Pacific, Kiribati is severely threatened by sea-level rise. But the people there have long been trying to solve other devastating problems including urban planning, land use, and water resources.

Focusing on climate change problems has the unfortunate consequence of distracting from other development challenges. In particular, the physical hazard of climate change to islands and islanders is often emphasised, tending to promote technocratic responses for only climate change. Integrated approaches focusing on island peoples, communities, and livelihoods are frequently sidelined.

The fundamental question is why inequality and power relations have left many island communities with few options for responding to climate change. That is the same as the long-standing questions about why inequality and power relations have left many island communities unable to tackle the root causes of their multiple vulnerabilities.

The difficulty is not so much addressing the hazard of climate change per se. Instead, it is understanding why islanders often continue to be denied the resources and options to address climate change themselves–just as with the other development challenges that have pervaded for decades.

In that regard, climate change brings little to the islands that is new.

The author: Dr. Ilan Kelman is Senior Research Fellow, Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO).

books_icon Kelman I 2013 No change from climate change: vulnerability and small island developing states The Geographical Journal DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12019

60-world2Secretariat of the Pacific Community 2013 Mangroves in the Marshall Islands to protect local community (Press release) Scoop 24 January