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From Climate Change to Climate Crisis: What Are Our Options Now?

By Steve Wells, Rohit Talwar, Alexandra Whittington
Critical Human Systems

The near-term economic impact of climate change is complicated by the range of potential variables and assumptions. Studies have placed the figure in the range of 2-20% of global GDP.(1) The Australian Reserve Bank recently announced that it will be taking climate change impacts into account when setting interest rates.(2) The economic losses could be highest for manufacturing industry, transport and energy sectors.

Furthermore, climate change related water shortages and pollution could undermine the economic performance and health conditions of populations worldwide. Migration could take place as people seek out a better quality of life and the increased movement of people may lead to a growth in disease outbreaks. The UK public health system, for example, is likely to face potential climate related changes to disease epidemiology among citizens and visitors. Rising disease levels may require more increasingly sophisticated monitoring mechanisms, drawing on social media, disease notification systems, and artificial intelligence visual analysis tools to assess tourists and immigrants arriving from high risk locations.

Growth of Environmental Activism and Risks of Inaction

Awareness of climate change is increasing, particularly amongst younger generations. Technology and cyber activism provide activists with the ability to connect on a global scale and share ideas and information easily, leading to the formation of a global environmentalist movement.

International treaties and pressure from civil society may encourage many governments to act on climate change. However, we may see continued political resistance and resulting inaction in several countries. This may be because they argue with the science, lack the funds to make the required national investments, put short term economic priorities first, or are reluctant to pressurise business and the community to change behaviour.

The combination of adverse climate effects and increasing consumption is expected to deplete natural resources. In such circumstances, countries will be challenged to balance short term necessities to feed their populations with long-term priorities to address the implications on both the health of the planet and its citizens. For example, almost half of the world already live in regions of water scarcity. These regions could become even more adversely affected with climate change increasing the occurrence of drought and food insecurity.

Persistently rising sea levels and extreme weather could increase the vulnerability of coastal cities in particular – rendering a number potentially uninhabitable.(3) This is in turn could lead to mass migration of populations, particularly from the south to north on the planet. Such developments would test the ability of nations and global governance systems to cope with mass migrations and the decline of key centres of economic activity. The second and third order effects could see global economic volatility, the closing of national borders, and drastic action to deter migrants.

Investment in Geo-Engineering

A wide range of geoengineering or climate engineering ideas have been proposed to help combat climate change by intervening in the Earth’s natural systems – oceans, soils, and atmosphere. The two main categories of solution focus on reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth or capturing Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere. Possible solutions include cooling the Earth by injecting sun-blocking particles into the stratosphere, afforestation, carbon air capture, and iron fertilization of oceans. However, these measures are likely to be expensive and will at best act as temporary solutions to dangerous climate change. They will not eliminate the need to deal with the problem at source by reducing CO2 emissions.(4)

One practical solution under consideration is to reduce the amount of solar radiation reflected from the planet’s surface, which is called its ‘albedo’. This can be done through a range of small to geoscale measures such as whitening roofs, better land-use management, overlaying reflective sheeting on large land areas such as glaciers and deserts.(5)

Marine cloud brightening is another proposed climate engineering approach to solar radiation management that could help offset anthropogenic global warming. The approach would brighten clouds to help them reflect small amounts of sunlight back into space.(6) A key candidate solar radiation management solution is to engineer a global dimming effect using stratospheric sulphate aerosols. This approach would use artillery, aircraft, and balloons for atmospheric release of sulphide gases such as sulphuric acid, hydrogen sulphide, or sulphur dioxide.(7)

Cloud seeding is an approach which seeks to alter the microphysical processes within clouds in order to change the amount and type of precipitation that falls. The technique has already been tried by many countries with varying degrees of success. By 2035, the approach is likely to become commonplace to increase rainfall in drought regions.(8) This reflects the relatively low cost of conducting cloud seeding compared to other weather and climate engineering techniques. Estimates suggest cloud seeding could boost precipitation by 5 to 15%.(9) Weather engineering could reduce the impacts of severe weather events such as hurricanes and hail.

Response Strategies

Wind, solar, and other renewables could account for about 30% of the world’s electricity generation capacity by 2040. In regions such as Europe, the figures could be reach 50%(10) or higher depending on the speed of transition to renewables – enabled by government commitment, energy sector investment, and local energy solutions.

A number of climate analysis organisations have come together to define a set of Mission 2020 goals and milestones(11) to help deliver on the long-term objectives of the Paris Climate Change agreement. These milestones cover energy, infrastructure, transport, land use, heavy industry, and investment in climate action. A key enabler of the Mission 2020 targets is for coal and fossil fuels to be removed faster from the global energy mix than the current rate of progress.

The EU has set a target of reducing GHG emissions by 20% by 2020. To meet its target, the EU must reduce primary energy production by 3.9%.(12) Figures suggest that the EU is on target to exceed its goal.

With the right support, these response strategies can form a comprehensive challenge to the climate crisis, bringing planetary ecosystems back from the brink. Although the situation is dire, keeping up to date with the latest developments is one of the best ways to remain calm and carry on—which is exactly what we must do for future generations to have a fighting chance.

 

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References:

  1. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018EF000922 Accessed 02/04/2019.
  2. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/rba-to-take-climate-change-into-account-when-setting-interest-rates Accessed 02/04/2019.
  3. http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/08/19/coastal-cities-at-highest-risk-floods Accessed 02/04/2019.
  4. https://www.dezeen.com/2018/10/18/five-geoengineering-solutions-climate-change-un-ipcc-technology/ Accessed 02/04/2019.
  5. http://www.geoengineeringmonitor.org/2018/05/surface-albedo-modification-technology-factsheet/ Accessed 02/04/2019.
  6. https://www.washington.edu/news/2017/07/25/could-spraying-particles-into-marine-clouds-help-cool-the-planet/ Accessed 02/04/2019.
  7. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/geoengineering-treatment-stratospheric-aerosol-injection-climate-change-study-today-2018-11-23/ Accessed 02/04/2019.
  8. https://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/can-cloud-seeding-help-ease-californias-drought.html Accessed 02/04/2019.
  9. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cloud-seeding-may-make-it-snow-but-will-it-reduce-droughts-in-the-west/2018/02/23/88efeafe-1675-11e8-92c9-376b4fe57ff7_story.html?utm_term=.4ce3f088cb9d Accessed 02/04/2019.
  10. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/feb/14/renewable-energy-world-power-source-bp Accessed 02/04/2019.
  11. http://www.mission2020.global/milestones-alternative-energy/ Accessed 02/04/2019.
  12. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Europe_2020_indicators_-_climate_change_and_energy#General_overview Accessed 02/04/2019.

Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/global-warming-ecology-nature-2034896/ by TheDigitalArtist

 

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