Facing up to the climate crisis

Facing up to the climate crisis

Sep 19, 2019

On the eve of mass climate action around the world, Joe Human writes about what needs to be done to address the climate crisis.

In all my articles this year I have used the term 'climate change' to describe the accelerating changes that are happening to our climate: seriously altered weather patterns, erratic rains, rising temperatures, plus more frequent extreme weather events, such as cyclones and droughts.

From now on I am going to use the term 'climate crisis', for that is what it is: a crisis, which, unless we address it with great urgency, will drastically impact on the whole of humankind, but most of all, as I wrote in my last article, on fair trade and climate change.

So what can be done to address it? And are we already too late?  

To answer the second question first: today – 10 September – the day I am writing this, the Guardian reports on the publication of the 'Global Commission on Adaptation'.

Convened by 18 countries, including our own, with contributions from the former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, World Bank CEO, Kristalina Georgieva, and many others, the Commission warns that the world’s preparedness for the crisis is ‘gravely insufficient’.  The lack of readiness will result, they write, in poverty, water shortages and hugely increased migration, and an ‘irrefutable toll’ on human life.  

The greatest obstacle to action is not lack of money, but lack of ‘political leadership that shakes people out of their collective slumber’.  In short what is needed is a revolution in how the dangers of global heating are understood and planned for, and how solutions are found.  

Many solutions are suggested

Here are some of them:

  1. Given that more than 800 million people do not have enough to eat and that by 2030 global demand for food will increase by 50% while yields may decrease by 30%, there must be a massive investment in agriculture to boost production.   This will include the development of what they call ‘sustainable, climate smart production’ including crops which are less water dependent.  This is already happening in many countries, but need to be massively scaled up.
  2. Ports, roads, power, sanitation, sewer, and communications systems are all examples of infrastructure assets at risk from climate change.  So climate proofing existing infrastructure and building new infrastructure that is more climate-resilient is essential.  Ten million square feet of rooftops in New York have already been painted white to keep buildings cooler and could even help bring down the temperatures of the neighbourhood, as has already happened in Ahmedabad in India.
  3. Since in many parts of the world coastal communities in particular are ill-prepared for storms and very high tides the report recommends investment early warning systems.  In the Cook Islands of the Pacific the development of a smart phone app for fishermen means that they can plan according to increasingly changeable sea conditions.  Also as part of the protection of tropical coastal communities, the report urges restoring and protecting mangrove forests whose destruction makes coasts very vulnerable to storms and very high tides.  Building simply bamboo structures helps to trap sediments in which mangroves need to grow so that they can re-establish.
  4. The report urges countries to make water management a top national priority since the climate crisis is integrally connected to water systems and resources.  Successful adaptation will demand massive investments to make healthy watersheds and build water infrastructure.  And there will have to be dramatic improvements in efficiency of water use.  But what is also absolutely vital is the integration enhanced climate risks, such as floods and droughts, ‘at every level of planning and operation’.  The report says, ‘Countries that make water management a top national priority, backed up by major governance changes and investments, are more likely to adapt and prosper; those that do not will experience serious challenges.’

The total cost of all the adaptations recommended by the report is US$1.8trillion between 2020 and 2030, which seems a massive amount.  

But compared to what it will cost us if we don’t do it, it is small.  They predict the net benefit of protecting people and their livelihoods, of flood-proofing cities and of protecting water supplies is US$7trillion.

So really we can’t afford not to do it.  

Facing up to the climate crisis