Climate Change: Effective Adaptation Versus Costly Curbs – The Dilemma For UK Policy Makers

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri, told the news conference held in Yokohama, Japan, to launch the report, entitled “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability”. Courtesy: BBC.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri, told the news conference held in Yokohama, Japan, to launch the report, entitled “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability”. Courtesy: BBC.

The four horsemen of the apocalypse make an appearance in today’s report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts” warns the report which makes for scary reading, highlighting the risks of food shortages, floods and the extinction of many species as the world warms in response to growing emissions of carbon dioxide.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri, told the news conference held in Yokohama, Japan, to launch the report, entitled “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability”.

“We are at the point where there is so much information, so much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Lead author Professor Christopher Field of Stanford University warned that no matter what we do, we shall face consequences of climate change.

Key Risks

The report which brings together input from 1,729 experts states that the effects of climate change are already being felt on all continents and across the oceans. Natural systems were hit first but the human world is already being affected.

The key risks identified by the report include:

  • Storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise affecting low-lying coastal zones and small islands.
  • Inland flooding affecting large urban populations.
  • Extreme weather events leading to the breakdown of infrastructure and critical services such as electricity, water supply, and health and emergency services.
  • Death and illness due to extreme heat.
  • Food shortages linked to warming, drought, flooding, and changing rainfall patterns.
  • Reduced agricultural productivity in developing countries.
  • Loss of marine and coastal ecosystems affecting coastal regions and especially fishing communities in the tropics and the Arctic.
  • Loss of terrestrial and inland water ecosystems and biodiversity – with some species moving and others becoming extinct.

“The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate,” states the report.

This publication comes out ahead of major conference in Paris next year aimed at renegotiating the Kyoto Protocol agreed in 1997 which runs out in 2020.The bleak tone of the latest IPCC report establishes the backdrop for the negotiations that will be held in the run up to the Paris summit. The outcome of these negotiations is expected to be a binding agreement that will impose huge and costly obligations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions – particularly on western economies.

Some Facts

Given the stark headlines that have greeted the latest IPCC report, which focusses on the projected affects of climate change rather than on the underlying science, it is worth reminding ourselves about the current state of play on climate change. The facts are these:

  • Carbon dioxide is a warming gas.
  • The amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is growing.
  • Simple physics says this should warm the climate.
  • But there has been no significant increase in global mean surface temperature since the late 1990s even though carbon dioxide levels have continued to increase.
  • We do not understand and can not explain this pause in global warming although there are a number of theories.
  • We do not actually know how much the world will warm due to carbon dioxide and there are a wide range of estimates on the so called sensitivity of the climate.
  • The costs of mitigation and reducing carbon dioxide emissions are huge.
  • Mitigation efforts to date have not curbed global carbon dioxide emissions which have continued to grow unabated.

These facts create a difficult dilemma for UK policy makers in the run up to the Paris summit and a general election next year. For even if the UK eliminated all its carbon dioxide emissions tomorrow, this action would have little impact on the future projected growth of global greenhouse gas levels driven by emissions from the developing world – and by India and China in particular.

Dilemma

In other words, we in the UK can expect to experience the affects of some degree of climate change irrespective of what action we take to reduce our own emissions; clearly, the greater the sensitivity of the climate to carbon dioxide emissions and the bigger the increase in global carbon dioxide emissions then the greater the impact that we can expect to feel.

The dilemma for Britain is between spending scarce money on emission reduction measures or on heading off the worst aspects of what we are told is inevitable climate change.

This dilemma is neatly highlighted by government plans to spend around £100m on a new carbon capture plant to remove carbon dioxide from power station emissions. This is almost exactly the same sum that experts estimate needs to be spent on protecting the Somerset Levels from future flooding – work which began on the very same morning that the IPCC report was published. The carbon capture plant will have virtually no impact on global carbon dioxide levels while investing in flood protection for Somerset will yield tangible results.

Indeed, there is very a strong case for arguing that we in the UK would be far better advised to spend all our available climate-tagged economic resources on adaptation measures rather than wasting them on what currently looks like pointless emission reduction efforts.

The alternative is to saddle ourselves with high cost actions to curb emissions that risk years of depressed economic activity leaving us with fewer resources to deal with the unavoidable impacts of future climate change driven by growing levels of carbon dioxide that we are powerless to prevent.

It is time our politicians levelled with the public about this choice.

Source

You can read the IPCC report here.

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