Natural Security: How Sustainable Water Strategies are Preparing Communities for a Changing Climate

From the Executive Summary:

Clean water is essential to our health, our communities, and our lives. Yet our water infrastructure (drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems, dams, and levees) is seriously outdated. In addition, we have degraded much of our essential natural infrastructure (forests, streams, wetlands, and floodplains). Climate change will worsen the situation, as rising temperatures, increased water demands, extended droughts, and intense storms strain our water supplies, flood our communities, and pollute our waterways.

The same approaches we have used for centuries will not solve today’s water challenges. We need to fundamentally transform the way we manage water.

A 21st century approach would recognize “green infrastructure” as the core of our water management system. Green infrastructure is the most cost-effective and flexible way for communities to deal with the impacts of global warming. It has three critical components:

  • Protect healthy landscapes like forests and small streams that naturally sustain clean water supplies.
  • Restore degraded landscapes like floodplains and wetlands so they can better store flood water and recharge streams and aquifers.
  • Replicate natural water systems in urban settings, to capture rainwater for outdoor watering and other uses and prevent stormwater and sewage pollution.

This report highlights eight forward-looking communities that have become more resilient to the impacts of climate change by embracing green infrastructure. They have taken steps to prepare themselves in four areas where the effects of rising temperatures will be felt most: public health, extreme weather, water supply, and quality of life. In each case study we demonstrate how these water management strategies build resilience to the projected impacts of climate change in that area and how the communities that have adopted them will continue to thrive in an uncertain future.

Climate Change and Potential Impacts to Wildlife in Tennessee: An Update to Tennessee's State Wildlife Action Plan

From the Executive Summary:

The focus of this document centered on identifying the potential impacts, both positive and negative, to wildlife and their habitats that a changing climate will cause. This was accomplished by conducting a literature review of pertinent climatological and biological research papers and reports; then where possible relating those findings to the habitats and faunal groups of Tennessee.

In order to depict possible future conditions, various results of several models were described. The climate models discussed and the results shown are for example and discussion only. This document does not state or imply the validity of one model over another or one future condition over another.
Modeling climate change is a very complicated process. Climate models used today simulate the interactions of the atmosphere, oceans, land, and sea ice. Various models handle these components and their interactions differently, thus producing different results. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Program to provide policymakers with an objective source of information on climate change impacts and adaptation and/or mitigation strategies. This latest IPCC report, issued in 2007, states “warming of the climate system is unequivocal”. The report also sites observational data of natural systems that are already being affected by regional
climate changes, especially temperature increases.

The potential impacts discussed below are based on assumptions that Tennessee’s climate will warm over the remainder of the 21st century and precipitation may increase or decrease.

Climate, Agriculture and Food Security: A Strategy for Change

Agriculture – on which we all depend for our food – is under threat from climate change. There is no doubt that systems worldwide will have to adapt, but while consumers may barely notice in developed countries, millions of people in developing countries face a very real and direct threat to their food security and livelihoods.

Even without climate change, many agricultural systems in developing countries are nearing crisis point. Feeding a rapidly rising global population is taking a heavy toll on farmlands, rangelands, fisheries and forests. Water is becoming scarce in many regions. Climate change could be the additional stress that pushes systems over the edge.

We know that climate change will mean higher average temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and rising sea levels. There will be more, and more intense, extreme events such as droughts, floods and hurricanes. Although there is a lot of uncertainty about the location and magnitude of these changes, there is no doubt that they pose a major threat to agricultural systems. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable because their economies are closely linked to agriculture, and a large proportion of their populations depend directly on agriculture and natural ecosystems for their livelihoods. Thus, climate change has the potential to act as a ‘risk multiplier’ in some of the poorest parts of the world, where agricultural and other natural resource-based systems are already failing to keep pace with the demands on them.

The contribution of agriculture itself to climate change is often overlooked. Current practices, including the conversion of forests and grasslands for crops and pasture, result in significant releases of greenhouse gases – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that 31% of total emissions in 2004 came from agriculture and forestry. This clearly needs to be addressed in mitigation strategies.

The climate is changing, and agricultural systems must also change if we are to avoid catastrophe. Farming, fishing and forest communities will need to adapt their livelihood systems, while mitigation efforts must address both the contribution of agriculture to the climate change problem, and the great potential of different resource management practices in reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The changes that are needed will be many and diverse. They will happen at the local level, tailored to local circumstances and ecosystems, and chosen and managed by the communities themselves. They should have immediate benefits for the communities, as well as long-term benefits that future generations will enjoy. They must be based on sound science, and enabled by effective policy at all levels. They will build on the wealth of knowledge that already exists, and the new directions that research must now take to meet this enormous challenge.

The wealth of knowledge that already exists includes the results of more than three decades of research under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The 15 research centres supported by the CGIAR, and their many partners, have been working over this period to help poor farming, fishing and forest communities achieve sustainable livelihoods in the face of variable and uncertain weather. The accumulated experience and expertise can be applied to address the additional threat posed by a changing climate.

Indeed, climate change provides a massive and urgent incentive to intensify efforts to disseminate the fruits of this research, and to continue developing adaptation and mitigation options. At least in the near years, the benefits of adopting many of the existing technologies – such as improved crop, soil and water management practices and stress-tolerant varieties – could be sufficient to override the negative impacts of climate change. And the immediate benefits, in terms of improved food security, livelihoods and environmental security, make this a ‘no regrets’ approach – these changes are worthwhile whatever happens to the climate. At the same time it is logical that learning to cope with weather variability today paves the way for adapting to climate change tomorrow.

But climate change also promises new and unprecedented challenges, and demands new and urgent efforts to meet these. We need to take rapid strides forward in understanding what is going to happen to our farming, fishery and forest systems as the climate changes; the interactions that will occur with other global changes that are also under way; and within this complex and dynamic situation, the trade-offs we may face between food security, livelihoodsand environmental security. We need to develop new and inventive responses to what is likely to be the most complex challenge that the world’s food production systems have ever faced. To do this, we need new ways of working, new non-traditional partnerships and truly integrated approaches. And we need much better communications between all stakeholders, so that decision making at all levels is based on the best knowledge available.

These needs provide the drive behind a new initiative led by the Alliance of the CGIAR Centers and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP). The Challenge Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), which will launch in early 2010, unites the world’s best researchers in agricultural science, climate science and earth system science to address the climate change–food security problem. The transformative research programme provides a framework for these communities to work together and, by doing so, to go beyond their traditional boundaries and open up new and unique possibilities in the search for solutions.

Voluntary Guidance for States to Incorporate Climate Change into State Wildlife Action Plans & Other Management Plans

The Climate Change Wildlife Action Plan Guidance Document provides voluntary guidance for state fish and wildlife agencies wanting to better incorporate the impacts of climate change on wildlife and their habitats into Wildlife Action Plans. The approaches and techniques described in this document will also be useful in modifying other wildlife plans (e.g. big game/upland game/migratory bird plans, joint venture implementation plans, national fish habitat action plan, etc.) to address climate change. The document provides an overview of the information currently available on climate change, tools that can be used to plan for and implement climate change adaptation, voluntary guidance and case studies. Climate change is a large and growing threat to all wildlife and natural systems and will also exacerbate many existing threats. Efforts to address climate change should not diminish the immediate need to deal with threats that may be independentof climate change such as habitat loss/fragmentation from development, introduction of invasive species, water pollution and wildlife diseases. Since climate change is a complex and often politically- charged issue, it is understood that the decision to revise Wildlife Action Plans or other plans to address climate change, rests solely with each state fish and wildlife agency.

All states will be required to update their Wildlife Action Plans by 2015, although some states have opted for earlier revisions. Wildlife Action Plans may need to be revised earlier or more frequently than anticipated to account for the accelerating impacts of climate change. In addition climate change legislation passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in June 2009 would require each state to develop a state adaptation strategy and to incorporate that strategy into a revision of the state’s Wildlife Action Plan (similar legislation in the U.S. Senate is being considered). Although revision of Wildlife Action Plans for climate change is not currently required, starting the revision process now can help states prepare for potential climate change funding through federal appropriations in FY10 and/or through funding that may become available if Congress passes comprehensive climate change legislation.

The Guidance Document consists of three major chapters that provide information and resources that could be used to update Wildlife Action Plans to incorporate climate change impacts. Chapter 1 introduces processes, approaches and key concepts that can be used to develop climate change adaptation strategies for fish and wildlife  management. Chapter 2 describes tools, both old and new, that may be useful in developing, implementing and monitoring for these plans. Chapter 3 provides more detail on the process of updating Wildlife Action Plans, summarizes existing guidance and discusses how addressing climate change might affect the plan revision process. The references section and appendices to the document are a source of additional information on climate change.

Climate Change Impacts to Water Availability in Alaska Summary

Alaska is already showing evidence of climate change. Increases in temperature and changes in precipitation have had profound effects on regional hydrology, including shrinking wetlands, glacier and polar sea ice recession, permafrost melting, and an increase in fire frequency and intensity across the landscape as a result of increased drought and thunderstorms. Continuation of these trends will likely lead to further changes in the hydrologic cycle, with significant implications for the people, places, and wildlife that depend on Alaska’s water resources.

The Changing Himalayas – Impact of Climate Change on Water Resources and Livelihoods in the Greater Himalayas

The ‘greater Himalayan region’, sometimes called the ‘Roof of the World’, is noticeably impacted by climate change. The most widely reported impact is the rapid reduction in glaciers, with profound future implications for downstream water resources. The impacts of climate change are superimposed on a variety of other environmental and social stresses, many already recognised as severe (Ives and Messerli, 1989).

Solutions to the Rising Costs of Fighting Fires in the Wildland-Urban Interface

A principal reason for the escalating cost of wildland firefighting is the growing number of homes being built in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). This fact has been quantified and demonstrated repeatedly, yet most proposed solutions to hold down or reduce fire suppression costs fail to address it. Suggested fixes—such as increased coordination among agencies and educating homeowners how to live more appropriately near fire-prone lands—are focused on increasing the safety of existing residences in the WUI, but lack the means to control future costs and may unintentionally have the effect of increasing residential growth and subsequent fire suppression costs near fire-prone lands. This paper offers ten ideas for controlling the rising cost of protecting homes from wildland fires. They are:

  1. Publish maps identifying areas with high probability of wildland fires.
  2. Increase awareness of the financial consequences of home building in fire-prone areas.
  3. Redirect federal aid towards land use planning on private lands.
  4. Add incentives for counties to sign firefighting cost share agreements.
  5. Purchase or obtain easements on fire-prone lands.
  6. Create a national fire insurance and mortgage program to apply lessons from efforts to prevent development in floodplains.
  7. Allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums in fire-prone areas.
  8. Limit development in the wildland-urban interface with local zoning ordinances.
  9. Eliminate home interest mortgage deductions for new homes in the wildland-urban interface.
  10. Induce federal land managers to shift more of the cost of wildland firefighting to local governments by reducing their firefighting budgets.

The pros and cons of each idea are explored, along with a discussion of the likelihood that each idea will succeed in controlling future firefighting costs.

To succeed, several ideas will have to be applied concurrently, and they will require government support and direction. The tremendous scale of the problem (in terms of acres, ownership complexity and cost) means that federal government will have to play a role. The involvement from Congress and the federal agencies is also important because the current system of incentives is part of the problem. By spending large sums every year to protect homes from wildfires, the federal government is subsidizing the true cost of development. Without financial disincentives to building homes on dangerous, fire-prone lands, the problem will get worse.

 At the least, the proposed solutions presented here should begin a public dialogue on the need for policies that will decrease the future cost of protecting homes from wildfires. At the best, the ideas offer an array of options for the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Congress to explore and adopt.

Adaptation of Turtle Beach Junquillal to Climate Change

Marine turtles and their nesting beaches are threatened by sea level rise and overheating, resulting from climate change. A WWF project in Junquillal beach, Costa Rica, joins forces with the community to lead the implementation of adaptation measures, such as: coastal planning in consideration of sea level rise and expected flooding, restoration of coastal vegetation for shade and educating children with a new awareness for the links between climate, nature conservation and community well-being.This video is the abridged (8 min) version of the full length (24 min) documentary "Playas Calientes - Olas Furiosas" (2009)


Technical Framework for the Gulf Regional Sediment Management Master Plan

The Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) has instituted a collaborative partnership among the Gulf States to enhance the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico. The Habitat Conservation and Restoration Team (HCRT), established under GOMA, has recognized that sediment resources are integral to and a critical resource necessary in accomplishing many of the GOMA conservation and restoration initiatives and objectives. The Gulf Regional Sediment Management Master Plan (GRSMMP) was initiated as a result for managing this valuable resource and verifies the need for a comprehensive understanding of regional sediment systems and processes.

This plan will provide guidelines using the understanding of sediment dynamics (inputs, outputs, movement) to manage sediment resources towards accomplishing environmental restoration, conservation, and preservation while enhancing abilities to make informed, cooperative management decisions.

understanding of regional sediment systems and processes.Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) has instituted a collaborative partnership among the Gulf States
to enhance the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico. The Habitat Conservation and
Restoration Team (HCRT), established under GOMA, has recognized that sediment resources are
integral to and a critical resource necessary in accomplishing many of the GOMA conservation and
restoration initiatives and objectives. The Gulf Regional Sediment Management Master Plan (GRSMMP)
was initiated as a result for managing this valuable resource and verifies the need for a comprehensive
understanding of regional sediment systems and processes.

Climate-related Vulnerability and Adaptive-capacity in Ethiopia's Borana and Somali Communities

Pastoral communities in the Borana and Shinile zones of Ethiopia have been changing and adapting their livelihoods to changing environmental conditions for centuries. Recurrent droughts have been a major issue throughout history in the Ethiopian lowlands, and strategies to cope with, and adapt to these droughts are embedded in communities’ traditional social structures and resource management systems.

Local and scientific observations show that the region’s climate is changing. Recent evidence includes increasing temperatures and drought frequency, as well as unpredictable rains that fall in shorter but more intense episodes. The magnitude and rate of current climate change, combined with additional environmental, social and political issues, are making many traditional coping strategies ineffective and/or unsustainable, amplifying environmental degradation and food insecurity, and forcing communities to rapidly find new livelihood strategies.

The communities participating in this study have many ideas on how to prepare for future climate change, demonstrating a strong motivation to move out of poverty and take their future into their own hands. Suggested strategies include: modifying livestock diversity, composition and numbers; diversifying livelihood activities; producing, collecting and preserving hay; modifying rangeland management practices; modifying farming practices; maintaining, rehabilitating and constructing water infrastructure; education; savings and credit; establishing community groups to promote local engagement in a range of social and economic activities; making local natural resource management more effective, efficient and participatory; reducing conflicts over available resources; planting trees; and raising community awareness on climate change issues, including future projections and potential adaptation strategies.

Despite this sense of determination, pastoralists’ ability to adapt is constrained by many factors including increasing land degradation; conflicts over scarce resources, which limit movement and destroy assets that are key for adaptation (especially in Borana); limited access to information (including that on weather, climate change, markets, as well as pest and disease outbreaks); limited education, skills and access to financial services and markets required to diversity their livelihoods; inadequate government policies, capacities and coordination; demographic pressures; and social and gender inequalities and marginalization, which reduce the voice and adaptive capacity of the most vulnerable. Enhancing the adaptive capacity of pastoralists will require community-based and community-led interventions, but will also require tailored support from NGOs, donors, and overnments.