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How Climate Change Affects Water Resources in Costa Rica

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Sitting on the thin stretch of land that separates the Pacific from the Caribbean, Costa Rica has in recent years experienced above-average ocean temperatures and the first hurricane ever recorded. With the help of the IAEA, its scientists are now turning to isotopic techniques to monitor these extreme weather events and protect the country’s water and population, in a region that has been identified as an area that could be particularly affected by climate change.

“Water has memory,” said Ricardo SánchezMurillo, coordinator of the Stable Isotopes Research Group at the National University of Costa Rica in Heredia. “With isotopes, we can record this memory and use the current information we gather in precipitation to understand past climate events and improve Costa Rica’s planning to face future meteorological events, including hurricanes.” In 2015, after a severe drought period, Central America saw one of the strongest El Niño Southern Oscillations — a warming of the ocean surface that has been happening in the region for centuries. One year later, Costa Rica faced the first hurricane recorded to date in the southernmost region of Central America.

“We didn’t have any historical records of hurricanes impacting Costa Rica,” SánchezMurillo said. “So we were susceptible and suffered the consequences, because we didn’t know how to respond.”

Such phenomena carry with them a collection of isotopic fingerprints that scientists like Sánchez-Murillo can capture using special nuclear-derived techniques. Once recorded, they use the isotope data, coupled with climatic models and past climatic records, to predict the frequency, magnitude and intensity of future meteorological events and inform authorities, who in turn can be better prepared. The science behind this is called isotope hydrology (see Isotope hydrology).

“We now have the tracers, which act as a sentinel,” Sánchez-Murillo said. “These techniques give us the capacity to see what conventional instruments cannot reach. Where conventional methods cannot see, isotopes can.”

Using isotopic techniques to study poorly understood water systems, experts are also finding solutions to water challenges related to climate change that are affecting even the wettest regions, including Costa Rica. With these techniques, scientists can determine the quantity and quality of water supplies. They use naturally occurring isotopes as tracers to find out where groundwater comes from, if it is recent or old, if it is being recharged or polluted, and how it travels.

Through the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme, hydrologists in Costa Rica have received support and training to develop a monitoring network that traces precipitation and underground water processes.

Understanding rainfall patterns helps hydrologists know where, when and how water is recharged — information that is key to devising land and water management plans. With isotopes, they have studied water in the Central Valley, a biological corridor between the Pacific and Caribbean slopes that supplies drinking water to approximately a fifth of Costa Rica’s population, around one million people. And today, they know the exact height and zones from which aquifers get new water.

“Understanding the key factors controlling rainfall patterns and their relationship with groundwater recharge is essential for government and environmental agencies to prioritize resources and efforts,” Sánchez Murillo said. “Now that we know the critical recharge areas and how groundwater travels, we can prioritize the conservation of these areas over commercial activities.”

Impacting policy

The work by Sánchez-Murillo and his team is intended to enable the government to target conservation measures at the most critical areas of recharge. This would, in turn, allow residents, farmers, or businesses to continue developing activities without having a negative impact on the sources of water.

“While we have always had regulations in place to protect our water, the difference is that now we can be more precise, more efficient,” Sánchez-Murillo said. “We know exactly which areas need special attention, and we know how to protect them to ensure water supply for now and the coming decades.”

THE SCIENCE

Isotope hydrology

Every water molecule has hydrogen and oxygen atoms, but these are not all the same: some atoms are lighter and some are heavier.

“All natural waters have a different hydrogen and oxygen isotopic composition,” said IAEA isotope hydrologist Lucía Ortega. “We use this isotopic composition as the fingerprints of water.”

As water evaporates from the sea, molecules with lighter isotopes tend to preferentially rise. As rain falls, molecules with heavier isotopes fall sooner. The further the cloud moves inland, the higher the proportion of molecules with light isotopes in rain.

When water falls to the earth, it fills lakes, rivers and aquifers, Ortega said. “By measuring the difference in the proportions between the light and heavy isotopes, we can estimate the origin of different waters.”

In addition, the abundance of naturally occurring radioactive isotopes present in water, such as tritium and noble gas isotopes dissolved in the water, can be used to estimate groundwater age — from a few days to one millennia. “And this is key to help us assess the quality, quantity and sustainability of water,” she said.

Climate change and water were topics discussed during the IAEA’s 2018 Scientific Forum. See more information about the Forum, titled Nuclear Technology for Climate: Mitigation, Monitoring and Adaptation, here.

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EU plays instrumental role in making the Paris Agreement operational

MD Staff

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The UN climate conference (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, concluded today with the adoption of a clear rulebook to make the Paris Agreement on climate change work in practice across the world. The completion of the rulebook was the EU’s top objective in these negotiations.

The Paris rulebook will enable the Parties to the Paris Agreement to implement, track and progressively enhance their contributions to tackling climate change, in order to meet the Agreement’s long-term goals.

Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete said: “In Europe, and working united as Europeans, we have reached a balanced deal on the rules to turn the Paris Agreement into action.The EU played an instrumental role in reaching this outcome, working with allies from both developed and developing countries and with major economies, in particular China, to raise ambition and strengthen global efforts to fight climate change. We have responded to the urgency of science by acknowledging positively the IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5°C. This was a key ask for the EU and its allies. The Paris rulebook is fundamental for enabling and encouraging climate action at all levels worldwide – and success here also means success for multilateralism and the rules-based global order. The EU will continue to lead by turning our commitments into concrete action, leaving no one behind in the transition to a climate-neutral future; and inspiring other countries to make this necessary transition. I would like to thank Minister Kurtyka and the Polish COP Presidency for a job well done, and to Minister Köstinger and her team from the Austrian Presidency for helping the EU stay united and leading.”

EU action

The EU’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990, under its wider 2030 climate and energy framework. All key legislation for implementing the 2030 emissions target has already been adopted, including the increased EU’s 2030 targets on renewable energy and energy efficiency – which if fully implemented could lead to an EU GHG emissions cut of some 45% by 2030, the Commission has estimated – as well as the modernisation of the EU Emissions Trading System and 2030 targets for all Member States to cut emissions in sectors such as transport, buildings, agriculture and waste.

Back in November 2016 – just before the Paris Agreement entered into force – the Commission presented the Clean Energy for All Europeans Package, aimed at setting the most advanced regulatory framework that will make the European energy sector more secure, more market-oriented and more sustainable.
We acknowledge that this transition is going to be more difficult for some regions than others – notably those regions, where the economy is based on coal production.
The Commission, together with these legislative proposals, outlined a special initiative to work with coal and carbon-intensive regions in transition so that they can also benefit from the clean energy transition. The clean energy transition is a transition for all Europeans and its socio-economic impacts must be carefully managed.

EU ambition also goes beyond 2030. Following the invitation by the EU leaders, the Commission on 28 November presented a strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate-neutral European economy by 2050.

The strategic vision, which follows wide stakeholder consultation and takes into account the recent IPCC special report on 1.5°C, is an ambitious vision for ensuring a prosperous, modern, competitive and secure economy, providing sustainable growth and jobs and improving the quality of life of EU citizens.

The strategic vision, which the Commission presented to global partners at COP24, will kick-start an EU-wide debate which should allow the EU to adopt a long-term strategy and submit it to the UNFCCC by 2020. To this end, the European Council invites the Council to work on the elements outlined in the Communication.

The EU also remains committed to the collective global goal to mobilise USD 100 billion a year by 2020 and through to 2025 to finance climate action in developing countries, from a variety of public and private sources. In 2017, the EU, its Member States and the European Investment Bank together provided a total EUR 20.4 billion in climate finance, around a 50% increase from 2012.

Key outcomes

The Paris Agreement rulebook contains detailed rules and guidelines for implementing the landmark global accord adopted in 2015, covering all key areas including transparency, finance, mitigation and adaptation.

Key COP24 outcomes include:

  • The first ever universal system for the Parties to track and report progress in climate action, which provides flexibilities to those countries that genuinely need it. This will inspire all Parties to improve their practices over time and communicate the progress made in clear and comparable terms.
  • A good, consensual outcome on adaptation issues. The Parties now have guidance and a registry to communicate their actions as regards to adapting to the impacts of climate change.
  • As to the global stocktake process, the next moment to review collective action, which the EU considered vital for the Paris Agreement, the result provides a solid basis for further elaboration on the details of the process. The global stocktake will invite Parties to regularly review progress and the level of ambition based on the latest available science.
  • Finally, with the decisions on finance and technology, there is now a solid package that the EU trusts will provide reassurances to our partners on our commitment to continued global solidarity and support.

Background

The 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – ‘COP24′ – took place from 2-14 December in Katowice, Poland, presided over by the Polish government. It brought together ministers and government officials, as well as a wide range of stakeholder representatives.

The Paris Agreement, adopted in December 2015, sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C. It entered into force on 4 November 2016. 195 UNFCCC Parties have signed the Agreement and 184 have now ratified it.

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Cleaning up couture: What’s in your jeans?

MD Staff

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Today you made a decision that could change the face of the planet. You decided what to wear.

When was the last time you looked in your wardrobe and couldn’t find anything suitable?

Screen stars on Netflix wear stunning but different couture in every episode. Celebrities boast cutting edge design, always pictured in a new outfit. Are you keeping up? Don’t worry. The latest news is that you don’t have to.

If you listen to Deputy Mayor of Paris—and Parisians would know—Antoinette Guhl, as stated in the report A New Textiles Economy: “Circular is the new black! We need a fashion industry based on three principles: clean, fair and good.”

Our clothing is an expression of individuality. We use it to make ourselves unique as well as provide comfort and protection. But the environmental cost of our clothes is adding up.

The industry’s environmental footprint is immense. It extends beyond the use of raw materials. Combined, the global apparel and footwear industries account for an estimated 8 percent of the world´s greenhouse gas emissions.

Lifecycle assessments show—taking cotton production, manufacture, transport and washing into account— it takes 3,781 litres of water to make one pair of jeans. The process equates to around 33.4 kilogrammes of carbon equivalent emitted, like driving 111 kilometres or watching 246 hours of TV on a big screen.

Even just washing our clothes releases plastic microfibres and other pollutants into the environment, contaminating our oceans and drinking water. Around 20 per cent of global industrial water pollution is from dyeing and textile treatment.

Yet globally, the industry wields considerable power. It is worth US$1.3 trillion, employing around 300 million people along the value chain.

UN Environment’s Llorenç Milà i Canals, Head of the Life Cycle Initiative, said fashion presents a massive opportunity to create a cleaner future.

But steps must be taken to involve everyone involved in the value chain to address environmental hotspots; define and take bold action on them.

“All actors must play their part in redefining the way value is generated and kept within the apparel sector, moving away from disposable apparel to a sector that generates and sustains value for society without polluting the environment,” he said.

As consumers, this means buying less. Some studies estimate that the average garment is worn ten times before being discarded. Demand for clothing is projected to rise two per cent a year—but the number of times we wear them has dropped one third compared to the early 2000s.

This waste costs money and the value of natural resources. Of the total fibre input used for clothing, 87 per cent is incinerated or sent to landfill. Overall, one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second.

There are steps we can all take today. Like checking materials are durable and keeping them for longer. Reducing the amount of clothes we buy, reusing and buying second hand items and recycling. Wash them less and smarter: use concentrated liquid soap rather than powdered detergent, which is abrasive and washes more fibers into water.

But while our attitude towards our clothing needs a rethink, so too does the way in which our clothes are produced. Collectively, on a large scale, reducing our environmental footprint requires cutting resource consumption and designing pollution out of clothing altogether.

The fashion industry is starting to take note.

A Pulse survey of decision makers from all industry segments confirms that sustainability is climbing up corporate agendas. Of executives polled, more than half said sustainability informed their strategy—up from last year.

Innovative new technology can play a part in cutting resource use. Cotton and recycled polyester still put a strain on the environment, so finding and developing new sustainable materials is key to reducing natural resource consumption.

In the meantime, developing countries—with a nascent textile industry —have an opportunity to build circular models into production from the start. They can set the bar high for the rest of the world to follow suit.

Ultimately, the key to a sustainable future lies in radically rethinking the way we consume and use clothing, and disrupting current business models. That means buying less. And it means putting pressure on our fashion industry to design a more responsible product.

UN Environment

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Leading international organizations commit to climate action

MD Staff

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Today, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 24) in Poland, 15 international organizations jointly announced a commitment to make their operations climate neutral.  The organizations will measure their greenhouse gas emissions, reduce them as much as possible and compensate the currently unavoidable ones with credible carbon credits.

With over 2 million tons of CO2 per year in emissions, and more than 50,000 staff, the aggregate action by this organizations represents an important example that may be taken at all levels of society.

Some of the participating organizations have already achieved climate neutrality, while others are getting started in this journey. Still others were advanced in their sustainability strategy and are now going further by committing to go all the way to climate neutrality. Through this commitment, it is expected that organizations with more experience will support those that are at the early stages and that best practices will be shared.

This initiative demonstrates the commitment of the participating organizations to climate action, while serving as inspiration for others to follow suit and contribute to the goal to achieve global climate neutrality before the end of this century, as established in the Paris Agreement.

The international organizations that announced their commitment to climate neutrality are:

  1. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Secretariat
  2. Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa Secretariat (COMESA)
  3. Eastern Africa Development Bank (EADB)
  4. Western Africa Development Bank (BOAD)
  5. Asian Development Bank (ADB)
  6. Pacific Community
  7. ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability
  8. European Investment Bank (EIB)
  9. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
  10. Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat
  11. Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)
  12. International Paralympic Committee (IPC)
  13. Latin American Energy Organization (OLADE)
  14. World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC)

These organizations join agencies throughout the United Nations (UN) system which in 2007 adopted a strategy and a roadmap to reach climate neutrality by 2020. Over half of all UN system entities are now climate neutral, representing 39% of total UN emissions as featured in the 2018 Greening the Blue report. The UN Headquarters is also becoming climate neutral for the first time in 2018.

Some of the actions that these organizations are implementing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions include the installation of solar photovoltaic systems, policies for reduction of air travel, upgrading of insulation and lighting systems in buildings, reduction of the amount of paper used at conferences, installation of efficient cooling systems, promotion of car-pooling schemes among employees, establishment of sustainable procurement policies, and enhanced collection and recycling of waste, among many others.

The ambition is that other international organizations will join this commitment in the near future, helping multiply the message of the importance of taking immediate action at all levels of society to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

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