Monday, October 20, 2014
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Managing Climate Risk

YOKOHAMA – We live in an era of human-induced climate change. Though not all of the future consequences are known, the range of realistic outcomes is serious – and a scenario in which there is no impact from climate change is so unlikely that it can safely be ignored. The risks – to commerce, societies, and the environment – are pervasive.

Investments in managing those risks can be effective and affordable. Indeed, some of the most appealing responses are relatively inexpensive. Others, which require more resources, can be developed as investments that not only provide protection from climate change, but also advance competitiveness, development, and security.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released today, explicitly frames the issue as a risk-management challenge. This approach facilitates a balanced consideration of likely outcomes as well as those that are less likely but imply much graver consequences. It also capitalizes on sophisticated tools and approaches already widely used for managing risks in endeavors as diverse as national security, financial planning, and infrastructure design.

So, what do we know about the risks of climate change?

The world is warming, and overwhelming scientific evidence confirms that humans caused most of that change over the last few decades. It is also clear that climate change will continue, at a pace determined by past, present, and future emissions of heat-trapping gases. Scientific understanding of climate change continues to advance, but there are still areas of uncertainty, including the risks of major surprises, complications, or unexpected interactions.

The effects of climate changes that have already occurred are widespread and significant, affecting agriculture, human health, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, water resources, and some industries. The effects can be seen from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest.

But future climate change will affect people, economies, and the environment differently in different places. Some will confront risks from extreme weather, including stifling heat, intense rains, and powerful storm surges. Others will face risks of more challenging conditions for agriculture, fisheries, transportation, and other livelihoods. Risks for human health and security will rise with shortages of food and water.

Along with these risks, a few may benefit, especially from a little warming. But climate change often will act as a threat multiplier, tipping difficult situations over the edge or narrowing options for solving problems.

While some of the future effects of climate change are nearly certain, others will be surprises. The level of risk is controlled by three factors. The first is the climate event or trend – for example, heat waves, heavy rain, or gradual drying. The second is exposure: how many people and assets are in the wrong place at the wrong time? The third is vulnerability, or lack of preparedness. Together, these three factors determine risk, which rises with more frequent or ferocious triggering events, more people or assets exposed, or lower preparedness.

Continued high emissions of heat-trapping gases will lead to large amounts of future warming. This would increase the frequency and intensity of climate triggers. Ambitious efforts to control emissions can decrease future warming and its risks.

Progress in reducing emissions is an important part of responding to climate change, but it is not the whole solution. It is also essential to make the investments needed to deal effectively with climate change that can no longer be avoided. These investments are especially important over the next few decades, a period when much of the climate change that we will experience is already baked into the climate system, owing to past emissions and existing infrastructure.

With smart choices, investments over the next few decades to reduce risk can contribute to vibrant societies, robust economies, and healthy environments. For example, improved emergency services and better transport and communication infrastructure can make streets safer and simultaneously encourage commerce. Depending on the location, improved flood protection, irrigation technology, or city planning can reduce both current and future risks for people and businesses. Almost everywhere, better education, preparation, and infrastructure can be parts of approaches that boost economies and strengthen the fabric of society while reducing risk from climate change.

Climate change creates real and pervasive risks. If we are smart and ambitious, addressing those risks can also create real opportunities.

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  1. CommentedMark Pitts

    Environmentalists who cry "Wolf!"
    Environmentalists have damaged their message enormously by predicting disasters that have not occurred. By now, the glaciers were going to be gone. And with so much carbon in the atmosphere, temperatures were going to be much much higher.
    The public no longer believes.

  2. CommentedJason Gower

    I read a lot of these articles then ultimately come to the end and ask myself every single time: what then will be the impetus for change? Now more than ever growth is in scarce supply and pretty much every proposal that I see presents a utopian vision of the very institutions that have built the economic system that we live in, somehow reversing themselves on a dime and presenting a solution that will save the planet from human nature. Sadly, this is out of line with reality.

  3. CommentedEdward Ponderer

    It would be so nice if babies could change their own diapers, wouldn't it?

    If the same type of people -- homo academician-us, homo politician-us, homo captain-of-industry-us, and homo bureaucracy-us-- whose initial drive to progress brought the initial problems, not act upon these through similar dynamics, and generate a whole new slew of problems--much less truly clean up the original problems? For example, there are "risks". Pray-tell, any numbers associated with these risks? I wouldn't want to run an insurance company like that.

    We are criminals who always imagine they can break the law, but always fail. What law? Murphy's Law -- everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. [Entropy x system-complexity = deterministic chaos--unless you partner with Nature's mechanics of dynamic balance--homeostasis. -- And we are looking towards evermore complex systems, exactly without doing that--who do we think we are kidding, Reality?!]

    No, we fundamentally have to change the approach here. Our approach to partitioning problems in an unnatural, politically-correct, every-man for himself manner--human vs. nature, nation vs. nation, interest group vs. interest group, individual profiteer against individual profiteer.

    We must first work on ourselves, on our own ego. We must work as a mutually responsible system, at the individual, family, communal, national, and global levels. Can we correct our own ego? No, but by educating it about the need for such integration for its own intelligent well-being, and creating a media environment supporting social values corresponding to this (as powerfully as we have induced the consumerism which plays such a large part in the present problems), we can bring this about. It is merely the same intentional self-help group hypnosis that has proved so successful for 12-step program organizations as Alcoholics Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous.

    But the first step is really to take an honest look at ourselves in the mirror and admit the source of our problems are internal to humanity--our basic relationships with each other. Correct these, and everything else will begin to fall into place and we will have a much better world, a world of bright promise.

    -- At least our diapers will finally get changed...

  4. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    I think before we "manage" anything we really need to achieve a paradigm shift in our perception.
    Despite more and more people agreeing that we are damaging the natural system around us, to the point of threatening our own survival, despite the fact that the multi-faceted global crisis shows us that we cannot even manage the very institutions we ourselves built, and that every good intention, promising looking economical, political, social, cultural, medical invention, institution sooner or later becomes corrupted, we stubbornly want to continue changing the world around us.
    I think we reached the crossroads where we should take a deep breath and an honest good stock of ourselves, scrutinize all our activities and then make a decision which way to continue on.
    I think we have enough historical experience, scientific and factual evidence that we are neither "creators", nor "managers", we are not "brave pioneers" that have to constantly explore, invent, change, triumph or break new frontiers.
    We are one of the species in a vast, finely balanced natural system.
    Our role is to fully get to know and understand the system and to adapt to it without trying to change it to our own artificial, and excessive demands and narrow understanding.
    The uniqueness of the human being is in its conscious mind. Contrary to any other living creatures we can, and have to adapt to the system consciously, above our unnatural inclinations and instinct.
    This fully aware adaptation, despite our inherent self-centered and egoistic nature pulling us in the other direction gives us free choice and a special place in this world, truly making us the peak of the pyramid.
    Only the truly matured, developed human being, acting above its own nature and instinct, becoming benevolent partner with its environment, can achieve unprecedented and sustainable lifestyle, and an effortless existence.

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