30 September 2009

putting a price on climate change adaptation

Even if global emissions of GHGs are drastically reduced in the coming years, the global annual average temperature will rise by 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2050. This slightly warmer world will experience more intense rainfall and more frequent droughts, floods, heat-waves and other extreme weather events. The reduction of vulnerability of natural and human systems against actual and expected climate change effects is going to be a huge developmental process in the coming years. Climate change mitigation is no longer possible, our outlook needs to shift now towards climate change adaptation.

Most scientists believe that rise in temperature will exceed 2°C, more on the order of 4°C and this is predicted to increase the likelihood of irreversible and catastrophic impacts. This will include the extinction of half the world's species, inundation of 30% of coastal wetlands, collapse of entire ecosystems as well as increase in malnutrition and diseases.

Climate adaptation however, is expensive business. To shed some light on this, the World Bank initiated a study to estimate adaptation costs for developing countries in the lead up to COP15. The initial study report, finds that the cost of adapting to an approximately 2°C warmer world by 2050 would be in the range of $75 billion to $100 billion a year. This sum is of the same order of magnitude as the foreign aid that developed countries now give developing countries each year, but it is still a very low percentage of the wealth of countries as measured by their GDP. To put things in perspective, for example in India, climate change adaptation alone will cost the country 2-3.5% of GDP per year, which is almost half the economic growth we are seeing currently.

Whilst mitigation efforts at this point seems useless, the world cannot afford to neglect it altogether. Whilst adaptation only minimizes the impacts of climate change, it does not tackle the causes. Development is the most powerful form of adaption but this has to take a new direction. Technological exploration makes economies less reliant on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture and it also boosts capacity to adapt by increasing incomes in infrastructure, health and education.

Development of the future has to be well planned and also sustainable with holistic approaches in place. Climate modelling ultimately is filled with uncertainties and therefore it is crucial to undertake further research, collect data and disseminate information so that if climate change impact turns out to be worse than anticipated, more countries can respond quickly and effectively. This requires global policy, laws and efforts to ensure rapid-action. Policies should be constantly revised and should be flexible enough to incorporate new knowledge as it emerges.

According to the report, countries should pursue "low-cost policies and investments on the basis of the best or median forecast of climate change at the country level. At the same time, countries should avoid making investments that will be highly vulnerable to adverse climate change outcomes". This report comes at an important time when the haves and the have-nots are battling over carbon numbers. Both sides of the argument are validated. However, the point being missed is that if carbon emissions are not reduced, we all will be the have-nots.

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