Climate Report: ‘Low- to No-Snow’ Will Worsen Water Shortages in U.S. West

December 2, 2021 by

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this week distributed the final draft of the Working Group III contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report to governments, in one of the final stages of preparations before IPCC member countries consider this report next year.

Jim Skea, cochair of Working Group III, said the “report will inform policymakers world-wide about pathways to solutions and opportunities available to us to tackle climate change.”

The review of the summary for policymakers in January provides governments with the opportunity to check whether the draft summary reflects the evidence laid out in the Working Group III report.

The Working Group III is responsible for assessing the mitigation of climate change, which includes responses and proposed solutions to the threat of climate change by through emissions reductions and other measures.

Along with the government review of the summary, the Working Group III is planning a series of webinars to go over aspects of the report with government representatives as they prepare written comments.

The Working Group III report is the third instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, expected to be completed in 2022. In August, the IPCC released the approved Working Group I report, an assessment of the physical science, which shows climate change is widespread and getting worse. The Working Group II report examines climate impacts and adaptation, and is expected to be considered at an approval session in early 2022 prior to the consideration of the Working Group III report.

Low- to- no snow

Snowpack could almost disappear for years at a time as climate change reduces snowfall, a team of scientists find in a report out in late November.

“A low- to- no snow future and its impacts on water resources in the western United States,” published in the journal Nature, examines the changes and “trickle-down impacts” of snow loss in the Western U.S., with snow water equivalent declines of around 25% expected by 2050.

Model projections combined suggest in the next 35 to 60 years “low- to- no snow” will become persistent if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current levels.

The authors note that snowfall levels have been on the decline for some time, with observed April 1 snowpack decline since the mid-20th century ranging between 15% and 30%.

“Future mountain snowpacks are further projected to decline, and even disappear, but at unknown rates,” the authors state. “While the complete loss of snow is the worst- case scenario, a plausible situation informed by estimates of historical low- snow conditions would be a (Western U.S.)-wide reduction in (snow-water equivalent) and seasonal snow, and a shift from rare or short- term to more persistent low- to- no snow occurrences.”

This “low- to- no snow” future has more implications than just negatively impacting water levels in the region.

“Changes in wildfire frequency, severity and timing are particularly catastrophic consequences of a low- to- no snow future,” the report states.

Oil Company Suits

An activist is calling on insurers like Swiss Re to consider suing major oil companies for climate-related damages – the tactic urged by The Sunrise Project, faces an uphill battle, according to a Reuters report on Insurance Journal this week.

Swiss Re CEO Christian Mumenthaler told Reuters he advocated a gradual path of decarbonization, but that said such lawsuits “would not be compatible, I think, with our philosophy,” while Munich Re CEO Joachim Wenning also dismissed the idea, the news organization reported.

“They should pull out all the stops,” Peter Bosshard, director of finance at Sunrise, told Reuters. “Our role is to push the envelope.”

Bosshard said Swiss Re would be well positioned to take the lead in lawsuits against the oil industry.

The Sunrise Project has been pushing insurers to do more in the battle against climate change for some time.

According to the group, 23 insurers have moved to end their underwriting of coal-related activities, but have been slow to act on oil and gas because the insurance market for those fossil fuels is considerably larger, with estimated premiums of more than $17 billion in 2018, compared with $6 billion for coal power.

Children Lawsuit

Portuguese kids suing 33 European countries in an effort to force them to cut emissions could see a decision come next year.

A pair of siblings along with four other youths from Portugal are suing the governments of the 33 most polluting countries in Europe, including their own, to reduce the production of emissions, arguing risks from climate change endangers their health and future and violates their human rights, NPR is reporting.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, is fast-tracking the suit, setting the stage for a possible judgement next year.

If the youngsters win, the legally binding judgment could be enforced in national courts throughout Europe, Gerry Liston, legal officer at the Global Legal Action Network, a nonprofit based in Ireland and the U.K. that’s representing the youths, told NPR.

“They were prompted to act based on the anxiety they’re experiencing, because of what they’re witnessing all around them,” he says.

This is by no means the first and only climate change lawsuit from children.

A similar suit filed in 2015 in Oregon was finally halted by a U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco in 2020, which agreed 21 young people who sued presented compelling evidence that climate change is bringing “eve of destruction” nearer, but said it was beyond its power to order a remedial plan.

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