Scientists Warn Unabated Climate Change Puts Another Billion at Risk of Water Scarcity
By Paul Brown
Allowing the Earth’s temperature to rise by more than two degrees Celsius will see dramatic changes in vegetation across the planet and expose a billion more people to severe water scarcity, according to new research.
So vast are the potential changes that the scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany comment that they doubt if humans have the capacity to manage the impacts it will have.
A temperature rise of five degrees Celsius would cause all ice-free land on the planet to experience dramatic changes in its eco-systems—for example, tundra turning to forests and African grasslands to deserts.
In a paper published today in the international scientific journal Earth System Dynamics, the scientists say they are surprised at how much worse the impacts would become once the two degree Celsius threshold is passed. At the moment, they say, the failure of politicians to make commitments to cut emissions means that the temperature is set to reach and pass the danger zone of 3.5 degrees Celsius.
While the scientists spell out what will happen to the vegetation and the water availability, they do not venture into predicting what conflict might arise if a billion people or more whose food supply would collapse embarked on mass migration to avoid starvation.
The “green” areas of the world most affected are the grasslands of Eastern India, shrub lands of the Tibetan Plateau, the forests of Northern Canada and the savannas of Ethiopia and Somalia. The melting permafrost of the Siberian tundra will also be significant, releasing further greenhouse gases.
The changes in vegetation are only part of the story. The report also concentrates on the effect of temperature on water shortages for the human population. Even if global warming is limited to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, another 500 million people could suffer water scarcity, and this will grow substantially as the temperature rises.
Dr. Dieter Gerten, research expert on water scarcity, and lead author of one of the three studies contained in the PIK paper, said mean global warming of two degrees Celsius—the target set by the international community—is projected to expose an additional eight percent of humankind to new or increased water scarcity.
However, a rise of 3.5 degrees—likely to occur if national emissions reductions remain at currently pledged levels—would affect 11 percent of the world population, while a rise of five degrees could increase this to 13 percent.
“If population growth continues, by the end of our century under a business-as-usual scenario these figures would equate to well over one billion lives touched,” Gerten says. “And this is on top of the more than one billion people already living in water-scarce regions today.”
Parts of Asia, North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East are particularly vulnerable to further water scarcity. The eastern side of the U.S. and northern Mexico, already short of water, will suffer further stress.
Maps published with the paper show the areas most at risk from both water shortages and vegetation changes. One of the worst affected regions is an area that includes Pakistan and the border area of India—which is already suffering from floods, droughts and a subsequent loss of crop production.
The scientists use their findings to show that the current world leaders have the key to the fate of the planet. If they reduce emissions now, they could prevent the worst of the temperature rises, but if they fail to do so the consequences will be dire.
The paper says a warming of five degrees Celsius—likely to happen in the next century if climate change goes on unabated—would put nearly all terrestrial natural ecosystems at risk of severe change.
“So despite the uncertainties, the findings clearly demonstrate that there is a large difference in the risk of global ecosystem change under a scenario of no climate change mitigation, compared to one of ambitious mitigation,” says geo-ecologist Sebastian Ostberg, lead author of the third section of the study.
While the report does not speculate on the actual effects these changes will have on the ability of the human population to survive, the scientists permit themselves the observation that it is hard to see how humans can adapt to such rapid changes.
Much more irrigation would be needed to grow the same amount of food, the scientists suggest, but this would put even more strain on scarce resources.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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