Record-smashing heat extremes may become much more likely with climate change – study

Record-smashing heat extremes may become much more likely with climate change – study

(Reuters) – Cyprus. Cuba. Turkey. Canada. Northern Ireland. Antarctica. All recorded their hottest-ever temperatures in the last two years, and according to a new study, more such extremes are coming.

In the next three decades, “record-shattering” heat waves could become two to seven times more frequent in the world than in the last 30 years, scientists report in a study published Monday https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-021-01092-9 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Beyond 2050, if current greenhouse gas emissions trends continue, such record-breaking heat waves could be three to 21 times more frequent, the study found.

Even with the records seen in 2021, “we haven’t seen anything close to the most intense heat waves possible under today’s climate, let alone the ones we expect to see in the coming decades,” said co-author Erich Fischer, a climate scientist at ETH Zurich.

For the study, the researchers used climate modeling to calculate the likelihood of record-breaking heat that lasted at least seven days and far surpassed earlier records.

Communities preparing for climate change need to be preparing for such extremes, he said.

“Every time record temperatures or precipitation go well beyond what we’ve experienced during our lifetime, that’s usually when we’re unprepared and the damage is largest,” Fischer said.

Last month’s Canadian heat wave killed hundreds of people and reached 121 Fahrenheit (49.6 Celsius) – an eye-popping 8 degrees Fahrenheit (4.6 degrees Celsius) above the country’s previous record, set in 1937.

“We should no longer be surprised if we see records smashed by large margins,” Fischer said.

If greenhouse gas emissions are aggressively cut, the likelihood of heat waves would remain high but the chances of exceeding records would eventually fall over time, the study suggests.

The new research shows that “we must expect extreme event records to be broken – not just by small margins, but quite often by very large ones,” climate scientist Rowan Sutton at the University of Reading’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science said in a statement.

“This highlights the huge challenge to improve preparedness, build resilience and adapt society to conditions that have never previously been experienced,” Sutton said.

The study was released as scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change begin two weeks of virtual meetings https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-climate-change-ipcc-idUKKBN2EW0CK to finalize their next global climate science assessment.

(Reporting by Andrea Januta; Editing by Katy Daigle and Dan Grebler)

As drought cuts hay crop, cattle ranchers face culling herds

Associated Press

As drought cuts hay crop, cattle ranchers face culling herds

 

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — With his cattle ranch threatened by a deepening drought, Jim Stanko isn’t cheered by the coming storm signaled by the sound of thunder.

“Thunder means lightning, and lightning can cause fires,” said Stanko, who fears he’ll have to sell off half his herd of about 90 cows in Routt County outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado if he can’t harvest enough hay to feed them.

As the drought worsens across the West and ushers in an early fire season, cattle ranchers are among those feeling the pain. Their hay yields are down, leading some to make the hard decision to sell off animals. To avoid the high cost of feed, many ranchers grow hay to nourish their herds through the winter when snow blankets the grass they normally graze.

But this year, Stanko’s hay harvest so far is even worse than it was last year. One field produced just 10 bales, down from 30 last year, amid heat waves and historically low water levels in the Yampa River, his irrigation source.

Some ranchers aren’t waiting to reduce the number of mouths they need to feed.

At the Loma Livestock auction in western Colorado, sales were bustling earlier this month even though its peak season isn’t usually until the fall when most calves are ready to be sold. Fueling the action are ranchers eager to unload cattle while prices are still strong.

“Everybody is gonna be selling their cows, so it’s probably smarter now to do it while the price is up before the market gets flooded,” said Buzz Bates, a rancher from Moab, Utah who was selling 209 cow-calf pairs, or about 30% of his herd.

Bates decided to trim his herd after a fire set off by an abandoned campfire destroyed part of his pasture, curbing his ability to feed them.

Weather has long factored into how ranchers manage their livestock and land, but those choices have increasingly centered around how herds can sustain drought conditions, said Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of natural resources at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“If it rained four inches, there wouldn’t be a cow to sell for five months,” said George Raftopoulos, owner of the auction house.

Raftopoulos says he encourages people to think twice before parting with their cows. Having to replace them later on might cost more than paying for additional hay, he said.

Culling herds can be an operational blow for cattle ranchers. It often means parting with cows selected for genetic traits that are optimal for breeding and are seen as long-term investments that pay dividends.

Jo Stanko, Jim’s wife and business partner, noted her cows were bred for their ability to handle the region’s temperature swings.

“We live in a very specialized place,” she said. “We need cattle that can do high and low temperatures in the same day.”

As the Stankos prepare to shrink their herd, they’re considering new lines of work to supplement their ranching income. One option on the table: offering hunting and fishing access or winter sleigh rides on their land.

The couple will know how many more cattle they’ll need to sell once they’re done storing hay in early September. They hope to cull just 10, but fear it could be as many as half the herd, or around 45 head.

Already, the family sold 21 head last year after a disappointing hay harvest. This year, the crop is even worse.

“With the heat, it’s burning up. I can’t cut it fast enough,” Jim Stanko said of the hay crop.

___

The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/environment.

 

What is La Niña? Does it bring more snow? How climate pattern could affect US weather.

What is La Niña? Does it bring more snow? How climate pattern could affect US weather.

So what exactly is La Niña?

The La Niña climate pattern is a natural cycle marked by cooler-than-average ocean water in the central Pacific Ocean. It is one of the main drivers of weather in the United States and around the world, especially during the late fall, winter and early spring.

It’s the opposite to the more well-known El Niño, which occurs when Pacific ocean water is warmer than average.

Both are Spanish language terms: La Niña means “little girl,” while El Niño means “little boy,” or “Christ child.” South American fishermen first noticed periods of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean in the 1600s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. The full name they used was “El Niño de Navidad” because El Niño typically peaks around December.

The entire natural climate cycle is officially known by climate scientists as El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a see-saw dance of warmer and cooler seawater in the central Pacific Ocean.

During La Niña events, trade winds are even stronger than usual, pushing more warm water toward Asia, NOAA said. Off the west coast of the Americas, upwelling increases, bringing cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface.

These cold waters in the Pacific push the jet stream northward, which affects weather patterns in the U.S. and globally.

What is a La Niña winter?

A typical La Niña winter in the U.S. brings cold and snow to the Northwest and unusually dry conditions to most of the southern tier of the U.S., according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. The Southeast and Mid-Atlantic also tend to see warmer-than-average temperatures during a La Niña winter.

New England and the Upper Midwest into New York tend to see colder-than-average temperatures, the Weather Channel said.

A typical wintertime La Nina pattern across North America. While the Pacific Northwest tends to be wetter-than-average, the southern tier of the U.S. is often unusually dry.
A typical wintertime La Nina pattern across North America. While the Pacific Northwest tends to be wetter-than-average, the southern tier of the U.S. is often unusually dry.

 

Because La Niña shifts storm tracks, it often brings more snow to the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. “Typically La Niña is not a big snow year in the mid-Atlantic,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center. “You have a better chance up in New England.”

Texas A&M University agricultural economist Bruce McCarl said La Niña years are often bad for agriculture in Texas and the surrounding region. U.S. production of most crops – except corn – generally goes down in La Niña years, according to research by McCarl.

Globally, La Niña often brings heavy rainfall to Indonesia, the Philippines, northern Australia and southern Africa.

What to expect: La Niña climate pattern should return this fall and last through winter. Here’s what to expect.

During La Niña, waters off the Pacific coast are colder and contain more nutrients than usual. This environment supports more marine life and attracts more cold-water species, such as squid and salmon, to places like the California coast.

Can La Niña worsen the Atlantic hurricane season?

Yes, according to the Climate Prediction Center. “La Niña can contribute to an increase in Atlantic hurricane activity by weakening the wind shear over the Caribbean Sea and tropical Atlantic Basin, which enables storms to develop and intensify,” Halpert said in 2020.

Vertical wind shear refers to the change in wind speed and direction between roughly 5,000-35,000 feet above the ground, NOAA said. Strong vertical wind shear can rip a developing hurricane apart, or even prevent it from forming. This is what can happen in the Atlantic during an El Niño when Atlantic hurricane activity is often suppressed.

While La Niña tends to increase hurricanes in the Atlantic, it also tends to decrease their numbers in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean basins.

La Nina tends to increase hurricane activity in the Atlantic and decrease it in the Pacific.
La Nina tends to increase hurricane activity in the Atlantic and decrease it in the Pacific.

Southwest monsoon rain bringing drought relief — but also dangerous flooding

Southwest monsoon rain bringing drought relief — but also dangerous flooding

 

Monsoon rain in the Southwest is putting a dent in the extreme to exceptional drought across the region, and portions of Arizona and New Mexico are seeing some of the most significant improvements.

Over the next couple of days, the monsoon rain threat will diminish across those states, the National Weather Service said, and focus instead on southern portions of California, Nevada and Utah.

Rain was reported Monday morning in the Los Angeles area.

Although the rainfall helps diminish the drought, it can lead to dangerous floods.

“The heavy rain will create mainly localized areas of flash flooding, with urban areas, roads, and small streams the most vulnerable through Tuesday morning,” the weather service said. In the San Diego area, the weather service warned that “life-threatening debris flows will be possible near recent burn scars.”

Over the weekend, a flash flood swept away a 16-year-old girl in Cottonwood, Arizona. The girl, Faith Moore, who had been trying to cross a flooded road in her car, was missing as of Sunday evening.

“I want to stress again to the public how dangerous these water crossings can be, even when it looks shallow,” Verde Valley fire district chief Danny Johnson said. “A simple decision to cross the road with running water can quickly turn tragic.”

The body of a 4-year-old girl swept away by floodwaters in southeastern Arizona last Thursday was discovered Monday.

And three flood fatalities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last week mark the deadliest flooding event at least in recent memory in Albuquerque, said Lt. Tom Ruiz, a spokesman for Albuquerque Fire Rescue.

Although there was a slight chance for thunderstorms over Northern California and into Oregon, including where some of the nation’s worst wildfires are raging, the threat of lightning strikes and gusty, erratic winds was not good news for firefighters battling the blazes there, the weather service in Sacramento said.

In Arizona, nearly 99% of the state is in some form of drought, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, which is published each Thursday.

The extent of the drought improved across the Southwest over the past week because of the rain, according to CNN. “The highest level of drought fell from 58% to 36% and marked improvements are expected again this week, with this current burst of monsoon moisture,” the network said.

Though the rain itself is popularly called a “monsoon,” the term scientifically means a seasonal shift in wind direction. In July, winds shift from the usual dry, westerly direction to the south and southeast, which taps into moisture from northern Mexico.

It’s that moisture that contributes to the summer thunderstorms that cause flash flooding. Even a small amount of rain can cause flooding, because it can’t soak into the rock-hard, bone-dry ground. Still, the monsoon provides more than half the annual rainfall to many communities in the Southwest.

The word “monsoon” is derived from the Arabic mausim, meaning “season,” according to the American Meteorological Society. Monsoon season usually runs from July until September in the Southwest.

The Southwest monsoon is not nearly as intense as the Asian monsoon, which often brings catastrophic flooding to India and other nations.

Contributing: Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY; Chelsea Curtis, The Arizona Republic; The Associated Press.

German Greens: Preventing climate disasters will be costly

Associated Press

German Greens: Preventing climate disasters will be costly

July 26, 2021

 

BERLIN (AP) — The Green party candidate hoping to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany’s upcoming election warned Monday that efforts to better prepare the country against climate-related disasters is going to be costly and will require tapping into additional sources of revenue.

Annalena Baerbock, whose party is trailing Merkel’s center-right Union bloc in recent polls, said the Greens want to invest significantly more in prevention “and that will cost money.”

 

“There’s no beating around the bush: protection against floods, rebuilding cities to make them resilient against climate change costs money,” she told reporters in Berlin.

Baerbock said the proposed measures could be paid for with money generated from carbon taxes or a softening of Germany’s debt rules — an idea the Union bloc has ruled out.

The debate over climate change and its impact on Germany has been fueled by deadly floods that hit the west of the country earlier this month. Experts say such disasters will become more severe and frequent as the planet heats up.

Baerbock also accused the Union bloc’s candidate, Armin Laschet, of having a “muddled” policy on climate change that she claimed “is a threat not just to the security of the people in our country but also to Germany as a location for industry.”

Laschet, who is the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, has struck a more hawkish tone on climate change since the floods that killed at least 180 people in Germany, including almost 50 in his state. But in an interview Sunday with public broadcaster ZDF he rejected calls to bring forward the deadline for ending the use of coal in Germany from 2038 to 2030.

Baerbock said her party will shortly announce a program of urgent climate measures that would be implemented within 100 days if the Greens take office after the Sept. 26 election.

1972 Warning of Civilizational Collapse Was on Point, New Study Finds

1972 Warning of Civilizational Collapse Was on Point, New Study Finds

​A motel sign destroyed by a wildfire in Oregon in 2020.
A motel sign destroyed by a wildfire in Oregon in 2020. The climate crisis is one example of how a 1972 study warning of limits to growth appears correct. ROB SCHUMACHER / POOL / AFP via Getty Images.

 

In 1972, a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists published an alarming prediction: If industrial society continued to grow unchecked, it would exhaust Earth’s resources and lead to civilizational collapse by the middle of the 21st century.

That study, called The Limits to Growth, sparked controversy and concern when it first emerged. But now, new research published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology says we are currently on track to living out its warnings.

“The MIT scientists said we needed to act now to achieve a smooth transition and avoid costs,” Gaya Herrington, the author of the new study, told The Guardian. “That didn’t happen, so we’re seeing the impact of climate change.”

The original Limits to Growth paper used a model called World3 to predict how factors like global population, birth rate, mortality, industrial output, food production, health and education services, non-renewable natural resources and pollution would interact to shape the future. They used the model to show different potential scenarios for the future, some leading to collapse, or a steep decline in social, economic and environmental conditions.

“Given the unappealing prospect of collapse, I was curious to see which scenarios were aligning most closely with empirical data today,” Herrington, who is also sustainability and dynamic system analysis lead at major accounting firm KPMG, said on its website. “After all, the book that featured this world model was a bestseller in the 70s, and by now we’d have several decades of empirical data which would make a comparison meaningful. But to my surprise I could not find recent attempts for this. So I decided to do it myself.”

Herrington found that we are currently closest to two of the original study’s potential futures: BAU2 (business-as-usual) and CT (comprehensive technology). In both of these scenarios, growth would start to decline in about ten years from now. In the BAU2 scenario, Herrington told VICE, this would lead to collapse starting around 2040. In the CT scenario, the decline would be more gradual, leading to what Herrington called “relatively soft landings” in the paper. However, even though the CT scenario does not indicate total collapse, it does still suggest that the status-quo cannot remain in place.

“Both scenarios thus indicate that continuing business as usual, that is, pursuing continuous growth, is not possible,” Herrington wrote in the study.

Neither of these scenarios are locked in place, of course. However, Vice noted that the data indicates policy makers have about 10 years to meaningfully act to change course. Still, Herrington argued in favor of taking that action.

“The key finding of my study is that we still have a choice to align with a scenario that does not end in collapse,” she told The Guardian. “With innovation in business, along with new developments by governments and civil society, continuing to update the model provides another perspective on the challenges and opportunities we have to create a more sustainable world.”

Ultimately, avoiding decline means turning society towards “another goal than growth,” Herrington concluded in the study.

Extreme drought pushes 2 major U.S. lakes to historic lows

Extreme drought pushes 2 major U.S. lakes to historic lows

 

Two significant U.S. lakes, one of which is a major reservoir, are experiencing historic lows amid a drought that scientists have linked to climate change.

 

What’s happening: Lake Powell, the second largest reservoir in the U.S., has fallen to 3,554 feet in elevation, leaving the crucial lake on the Colorado River, at 33% capacity — the lowest since it was filled over half a century ago, new U.S. Bureau of Reclamation data shows.

  • Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the biggest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, saw levels plunge in the south roughly an inch below the previous record low of 4,191.4ft above sea level, set in 1963, the U.S. Geological Survey announced Saturday.
  • Wildlife is already suffering from the decline, birds and shrimp in particular.

Threat level: Utah Department of Natural Resources executive director Brian Steed noted in a statement that while the state’s lake has been gradually declining for some time, “current drought conditions have accelerated its fall to this new historic low.”

  • USGS Utah Water Science Center data chief Ryan Rowland wrote that based on current trends and historical data, it’s anticipated that “water levels may decline an additional foot over the next several months.”
  • A major threat to Lake Powell, on the Utah-Arizona border line, is that demand for water across seven U.S. and two Mexican states “that rely on the Colorado River has not declined fast enough to match the reduced supply,” noted Brad Udall, a climate scientist at Colorado State University, to Cronkite News.
  • “The hard lesson we’re learning about climate change is that it’s not a gradual, slow descent to a new state of affairs,” Udall added.

The big picture: Lakes across the country are under strain from a mega-drought.

  • 95% of the West is experiencing drought conditions — and over 28% is facing exceptional drought, according to the U.S. drought monitor.

Arizona ER Doctor Visibly Stunned By Video Of Trump Rally: ‘Dangerous And Stupid’

Arizona ER Doctor Visibly Stunned By Video Of Trump Rally: ‘Dangerous And Stupid’

 

An emergency room doctor described the behavior of the people who attended a crowded, indoor rally for former President Donald Trump as extremely dangerous and stupid amid soaring COVID-19 case rates in the area.

“If you make a dumb decision about your own health, on one level you could say, ‘Well, it’s your life,’” said Dr. Murtaza Akhter, who works on the COVID-19 frontline with Valleywise Health in Phoenix. “But when it’s infectious disease that’s this contagious and affects so many people, you’re not just affecting yourself, you’re affecting everybody around you.”

Akhter made the comments after viewing footage of the packed “Protect Our Election” rally held at the Arizona Federal Theater over the weekend. Thousands of mostly maskless people crowded together as Trump and right-wing figures took the stage to continue his “stolen election” fiction and push anti-mask, anti-science rhetoric.

Footage on CNN showed MAGA merch-clad supporters yelling at the camera, “No masks! No masks! Take off the masks!”

Akhter said he had no doubt that there would be an increase in cases following the event.

In Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, just 42% of people have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. New daily cases have more than doubled in the past two weeks as the highly infectious delta variant rapidly spreads around the state and country, predominantly infecting and causing serious illness to unvaccinated people.

How many years until we must act on climate? Zero, say these climate thinkers

How many years until we must act on climate? Zero, say these climate thinkers

 

Peter Kalmus: ‘Zero years’

We have zero years before climate and ecological breakdown, because it’s already here. We have zero years left to procrastinate. The longer we wait to act, the worse the floods, fires, droughts, famines and heatwaves will get.

Related: Don’t blame men for the climate crisis – we should point the finger at corporations

The primary cause of these catastrophes is burning fossil fuel. Therefore, we must shut down the fossil fuel industry as quickly as we can. Fossil fuel subsidies must end today. New fracking wells, pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure can no longer be built; that we continue on this path is collective insanity. Fossil fuel must be capped and rationed, and diverted to necessities as we transition to a zero-carbon civilization. If we fail, the planet will continue to heat up, creeping past 1.5C, then 2C, then 3C of global heating as we keep squandering precious time. With every fraction of a degree, the floods and fires and heat will get worse. Coastal cities will be abandoned. Ocean currents will shift. Crops will fail. Ecosystems will collapse. Hundreds of millions will flee regions with humid heat too high for the human body. Geopolitics will break down. No place will be safe. These disasters are like gut punches to our civilization.

There are tipping points lurking in our future, but it’s impossible to know when they will be triggered. What’s certain is that every day we fail to act brings us closer. Some, like the loss of the Amazon rainforest, may already have been passed.

Jennifer Francis: ‘We cannot wait’

We need to immediately stop subsidizing all aspects of the fossil fuel industry. According to this report, the fossil fuel industry received $66bn in 2016, while renewables (excluding nuclear) only received $9.5bn. We should instead use those billions of subsidy dollars to ramp up the renewable energy industry: generation (wind, solar, nuclear), distribution (smarter grid), storage and electric transportation.

If we do not succeed in changing our destructive behavior, the increasing trends in extreme weather, sea levels, government destabilization and human misery will continue and worsen.

Extreme heatwaves, drought, wildfires and flooding events like those we’ve seen in recent summers will become commonplace. Many coastal cities and communities around the globe will be increasingly inundated by high tides and storm surges. Longer, more intense droughts will destroy cropland and force agricultural communities to uproot their families in search of a better life. The devastation of coral reefs around the world will worsen, wiping out fisheries that provide staple protein for millions of people. All of these impacts are happening now. If we don’t act fast, many communities, cultures and species will cease to exist.

  • Jennifer Francis is senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center
Michael Mann: ‘Strictly speaking, zero’

How many years do we have to act? Strictly speaking, zero – which is to say, that we must act, in earnest, now. We have a decade within which we must halve global carbon emissions. As I argue in The New Climate Warthis requires dramatic systemic change: no new fossil fuel infrastructure, massive subsidies for renewables, carbon pricing and deploying other policy tools to accelerate the clean energy transition already under way.

We are seeing unprecedented public awareness, renewed leadership from the US and diplomatic progress with China, the other of the world’s two largest carbon polluters. There is reason for cautious optimism that we can rise to the challenge. But there is much work to do, and precious little time now to do it. We must now choose between two paths as we face our future. One leads to massive suffering and collapse of our civilizational infrastructure. The other leads to a prosperous future for us, our children and grandchildren. But it requires that we leave fossil fuels behind. The choice is ours.

  • Michael E Mann is distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. He is author of the recent bookThe New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back our Planet
Holly Jean Buck: ‘We need action now’

We need to ramp up action now in order to transform all of our major systems by 2050: energy, transportation, industry, agriculture, waste management. We’ll need to eat less meat, farm in ways that store more carbon in the soils, reforest degraded or abandoned land and restore wetlands.

We need to force companies to outfit cement plants and other industrial facilities with carbon capture technologies. When it comes to energy, we need to electrify everything. This means replacing gas-fired heating systems with an electric heat pump in your home and swapping out gas-fired stoves. It means inventing new types of energy storage for those times when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, and getting used to responding to the grid – for example, turning down your air conditioning when the power company says there isn’t enough power (or letting them control your thermostat).

It means shutting down fossil fuel power plants and ramping up wind, solar, geothermal and probably nuclear, as well as building new transmission lines. Our targets should be 60% renewable electricity by 2030, and 90% by 2050. This means tripling renewable installations by 2030, or installing the equivalent of the world’s largest solar farm every day. If those power lines and solar panels look like they are industrializing the landscape, just think about the less visible but deadly costs of the old infrastructure. Fossil fuel combustion was responsible for 8.7m deaths in 2018.

Fossil fuels need to be phased out around the globe. What will people in those industries do? We will need entire new industries in hydrogen and carbon management, industries that turn captured carbon dioxide into fuels and other products as well as store it underground. We can’t just let fossil fuel companies pivot to becoming petrochemical companies, and find ourselves awash in more plastic. We can recycle, use products made from carbon, and innovate new bio-products. It’s not just an energy transition, it’s a materials transition.

And it needs to be global. If we don’t succeed in transitioning away from fossil fuels globally, we could face an uneven world where a few rich countries congratulate themselves for going green, and a few oil producer nations are supplying the rest of the world with dirty fuel, which they use because they don’t have alternatives. In that world, greenhouse gas concentrations keep rising. Climate change exacerbates the risk of war and conflict. It’s hard to measure or model this for exact quantitative projections, but it’s a serious concern. Phasing out fossil fuels, and supporting other countries in exiting fossil fuels, is the best bet for a peaceful future.

Drought-Stressed Chile Is Reining In Its Privatized Water Model

Drought-Stressed Chile Is Reining In Its Privatized Water Model

Alejandra Salgado and Valentina Fuentes           July 28, 2021

 

(Bloomberg) — Chilean senators approved a decade-old bill to reform the country’s water code, including setting horizons on entitlements and enshrining access as a human right.

In a unanimous vote late Tuesday, lawmakers pushed through a package of changes that include capping currently unlimited water rights at a maximum of 30 years and empowering regulators to suspend rights that aren’t being used or if supplies are at risk. Agriculture accounts for most water consumption in Chile, which is a major exporter of fruit and wine as well as copper and lithium.

Born in the 1980s Pinochet dictatorship, Chile’s water system relies heavily on private enterprise and market forces to allocate rights and deliver services. Water is expected to be one of the topics of discussion among delegates chosen to draft a new constitution as Chile looks to address lingering inequalities amid a decade-long drought exacerbated by climate change.

The package of changes, which still requires votes on individual articles, establishes water as a national good for public use and sets greater protections for supplies in indigenous communities. Private sector holders of water entitlements will be able to obtain extensions if they’re deemed to be making good use of rights.

“This bill reinforces the priority of human consumption and adds priority to safeguard ecosystems,” Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno said. “It allows us to advance in the task of facing climate change.”