We often defined climate as a long term weather pattern for a particular region. Climate is part of the ecosystem where wildlife adapts with it over long period of time. Changes in climate may lead to extinction of species and other catastrophes.
According to Charlie Moore, CNN producer of “Planet in Peril”, rate of extinction due to human pressure is pronounced. It is estimated that three species are lost per hour.1We are going to investigate the relationship between climate change and extreme weather events we have experienced in recent decades. Besides, adaptation and mitigation strategies at local, national and international levels to reduce rate of climate change and at the same time reduce its impacts to vulnerable group would be discussed as well.
Human activities such as deforestation, extensive burning of fossil fuels, over farming to support food demand, agriculture and others have cause a drastic rise in greenhouse gasses including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Accumulation of these greenhouse gasses brings unwanted greenhouse effect which will lead to global warming, melting of glaciers and rising of sea levels. From statistic2, burning of fossil fuels for the purposes of transport, heat, manufacture and light has emitted more than 30 billion tonnes of CO2 annually and this has caused a significant increase in global surface and ocean temperature. Rising of temperature may have negative effects on human health, food availability and ecosystems. Food and water availability would be uncertain due to variable rainfall patterns as crop yields are depending on availability of rainfall. Besides, climate change would cause climate sensitive diseases such as dengue fever, respiratory tract diseases, diarrhoeal disease to be worsen especially in third world countries where shortage of health facilities and health professions are often observed. 3As World Wildlife Fund 4suggested, climate change would also impose irreversible changes on ecosystem and animals. More species extinction would be expected due to the disability of animals and plants to adapt with new habitats.
The Fourth Assessment Report5 from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that since 1750 human activities have attributed to the warming of mother Earth. Scientists believed that human induced climate change would increase the likelihood of extreme weather events. More floods, drought, heat waves would be expected due to uncontrolled human activities.
As what we have been experiencing in recent decades, climate has been changing in the last century. We are now on the trend towards warmer temperature and more frequent extreme weather events.6
Figure 1 shows the Changes in average surface temperature both in central England and globally, compared with the 1961-1990 baseline. (Taken from Summary report on the change in average surface temperature produced by Department of Energy and Climate Change2)
The following case studies tell us how vulnerable is UK to climate change and how we are going to adapt with it.
Water scarcity has become an issue in some parts of UK especially south west area due to longer, drier and hotter summers brought by continuing warming. Drought would be more frequent. Population in south west area particularly at higher risk as their water bills are higher than anywhere else in UK and water poverty is already an issue there. Other socio economic factors such as fast growing tourism sector, planned development and expanding population have worsened this scenario. One is described as water poor when he spends 3% of his income on water bill. This phenomenon is likely to worsen with bills predicted to raise by 5%a year for some consumers.7In this scenario; water companies such as South West Water Company are the leaders that play significant role. Challenges for leader would be to maintain water affordability and at the same time improving water efficiency. There is no doubt that the primary root to alleviate water poverty is to slow down climate change by reducing emission of greenhouse gasses drastically. However, it may take a long time before we can see the obvious effect in this issue. In order to adapt climate change, a new pricing system, Rising Block Tariff (RBT) 8 has been introduced in south west region. People would be charged depends on amount they used. Three different prices are introduced depends on their consumptions. RBTs have three blocks:
Essential use-Cheap water for daily use (drinking, washing and cleaning)
Standard block-Standard priced water as a safety net for households exceeding “Essential use”
Premium Block-Expensive water for household consuming more than they need
In short, the more a person use, the higher they would be charged. This system sounds reasonably practical as people would tend to save water if they are charging on their consumptions. South West Water claimed that the “essential use” block will be 27% cheaper than standard use. Customers who use water efficiently would be able to save up to ?60 annually for a large family.9
However, it is argued that this system is unfair especially to households that are not able to reduce their water consumption due to household size, medical needs and ability to invest on water-efficient devices. This “differential water charging” approach may create affordability problem in vulnerable households especially those have low incomes.10
In order to protect vulnerable group from this adaptation strategy, South West Water Company has set up support schemes.8,10,11 WaterCare scheme provides advice, repair and practical help to improve water efficiency for households in debt whereas Watersure scheme is a capped charged to help qualifying households in paying water bills. WaterSure and WaterCare support schemes are only available to qualifying households. Not all vulnerable groups can benefit from these schemes. Low income single household and unmetered customers are ineligible for the support schemes which mean water poverty continue to become an issue in these groups of people. Water companies may help those unqualified but having hard time in paying water debt group by allowing them to pay water debt by instalments and provide free installation of water meter so that they can limit their water usage.12
Another solution to water poverty problem in south east England is to build water reservoirs. Water companies such as Southern Water, South East Water, Portsmouth Water and Mid Kent Water would develop new resources by building four new water reservoirs by 2020 to maintain adequate water supply. It is more cost effective as compared to building pipeline transferring water from North of England or from Wales.13 Reservoir plays an important role in supplying water for home, industry and agricultural use. Building of new reservoirs may solve the immediate water shortage problem but it has its drawbacks as well. It needs long time to plan and build. Other than that, the building of new reservoirs may create other environmental, social and economic problems such as deforestation for dam construction, emission of greenhouse gasses during construction, relocation of dwellers and others. Therefore, a lots of geographical, social, economic and environmental factors need to be taken into consideration before building new reservoirs.
Heat wave is another popular extreme weather event. According to research, global warming has increased the likelihood of heat wave by four to six times.19 Severe heat wave and drought cases were reported in several Europe countries in the summer of 2003. This extreme weather event has caused enormous detrimental effects in Europe with more than 30,000 premature deaths occurred. 8The heat wave that raised average temperature by 20-30% spreads from northern Spain to Czech Republic and from Germany to Italy. UK reported that there are more than 2045 casualties during the month of August in 2003 using a method from National Institute of Health and Medical Research.14
Elderly are more sensitive to heat stress due to their disadvantages in ages, physical and mental health. Other than causing deaths of vulnerable elderly people, heat wave causes advance ripening and maturity of fruits and over consumption of water.14 This in turn creates problems of soil water depletion and lower crop yields.
In this case, Department of Health is the leading party. They launched an annual national Heatwave Plan for a risk posed by high temperature in UK.8 This plan is to support vulnerable group during emergencies. Heatwave Plan incorporates the nature of the threat and respective obligations of health and social care services. One of the challenges in this adaptation strategy is the identification of heat vulnerable group. Local decision makers may have hard time to define heat vulnerability and identify all vulnerable groups due to limited tools and resources. This limitation may reduce the effectiveness of planned response. Department of Health use physiological and health related factors to measure people’s heat vulnerability which is insufficient as research suggested. Factors such as social networking, social support, knowledge and awareness on heat stress as well as financial ability may have to take into consideration when determine whether a person is heat vulnerable. Another potential challenge is service provider tends to overlook on certain groups of people as they are likely to omit those social processes when defining heat vulnerability. Besides, another weakness of this plan is limited engagement of service providers. This is because Department of Health’s Heatwave Plan focuses only on health sector and emergency response planning. A large variety of agencies may have no way to get involved.
As Stern Report suggested, climate change is going to cost us more when we are living with it compared to preventing it; a long term and more comprehensive preventative strategy involving multiple sectors, governmental, non-governmental organisations should be proposed. In order to protect those vulnerable from heat stress, campaigns and talks can be held to encourage participation of community and voluntary sectors. For effective implementation of Heatwave plan, health care providers and frontline staffs should be informed on the nature of plan and the expected service from them.15 Sufficient training should be conducted so that health care providers are able to deliver support to vulnerable group completely. Other than that, up-to-date database containing list of vulnerable groups should also be provided so that they can appropriate care can be provided.15 Besides, preventative skills and knowledge should be taught to family members of vulnerable group to avoid outbreak of heat related morbidity and mortality. Last but not least is financial aid. Vast amount of funding needed in order to carry the plan at national level, benefiting a wider community.
Other than heat wave that hit Europe in 2003, widespread floods in UK have shown how vulnerable UK is to the climate change. In year 2000, floods in England and Wales have caused 10,000 houses been flooded, paralysis of rail services and power supplies.16 Flood damage costs up to one billion pounds every year. A new research has suggested that climate change attributes to the increased risk of flood occurs in England and Wales during October and November 2000.16Coastal communities are more likely to suffer from the impact of climate change due to their geographical position and other factors such as migration of youth, high proportions of retirees and benefit claimants, transitory populations, physical isolation.17 Climate change in coastal region would cause more frequent and intense flooding, storms and rising of sea level which will then leads to severe coastal erosion. Besides, extreme weather events including flooding and heat wave would cause more severe effects in coastal region due to their prior disadvantages such as poor housing and higher ratio of elderly. Flooding, erosion and storms would affect the agricultural sector, public transport and other public infrastructure.
Challenge for this scenario is the spending cut on flood defences. 18Scientists have proved that climate change do increase the risk of flooding which means more funding and investments are needed to reduce flood risk of vulnerable group. A fall of 8% in spending on flood defences over the next four years, compared with the previous four years would make local authorities and communities that have already lacked of support and funding to tackle flooding issue. Poor public awareness on wider impacts of climate change and incorrect perception of climate change are challenges to this issue as well. It would be hard to protect vulnerable group if they themselves do not have knowledge on the danger of climate change and how climate change is going to affect their health, lifestyle, economic source and society. Besides, adaptation activities are not always in the priority list as some of the coastal local authorities had more concerning issues.
Immediate adaptation actions should be taken to protect vulnerable communities. Local authorities have to incorporate adaptation in their land management policy and activities.17 This is to avoid any further exposure of vulnerable region to climate change. Good communication and right message should be conveyed to local communities to raise their awareness so that appropriate actions could be taken.17 Furthermore, computer modelling is used to monitor effect of climate change on weather pattern. Climateprediction.net was introduced to predict Earth’s climate up to 2100 and to test the accuracy of climate models. 19However, the computer system is time consuming and it totally depends on the time devoted by volunteers. It needs up to one billion hours processing time which cost 120 million pounds if it is not running on voluntary basis. It would be costly to run the project if there is no enough volunteers.
Climate change is not a new idea. People have increased awareness on this issue in recent decades especially those experienced it.17 However, how well a person knows about the climate change and its impacts to our society, economy and ecosystemIt is true that Earth weather pattern is always changing but human activities have speed up the rate of change and leads to several extreme weather events such as drought, flood, heat waves and tropical storm. Scientist has estimated that there would be a rise of 6 degree Celsius at the end of this century if accumulation of excess greenhouse gasses is left unattended. Small temperature rise of 2 degree Celsius means more severe storms, floods and droughts, acidic seas, disrupted food chains and many more negative impacts on ecosystem. 20
In conclusion, climate change and extreme weather events are not an individual issue. They are linked to each other and the primary root to eliminate extreme weather events is to work on climate change by reducing our carbon footprint. It is a global issue where cooperation from all parties is demanded. We have to adopt adaptation and mitigation strategies in our daily life if we are going to maintain the global temperature rise below 2 degree Celsius. The saying “Roman wasn’t built in one day” comes into play here. Time and commitment are needed in order to achieve our goal. Remember, together, we can make the changes!
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