Climate change disaster is upon us, warns UN

First, over at the Guardian:

Sir John, a British diplomat who is also known as the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said dire predictions about the impact of global warming on humanity were already coming true.

“We are seeing the effects of climate change. Any year can be a freak but the pattern looks pretty clear to be honest. That’s why we’re trying … to say, of course you’ve got to deal with mitigation of emissions, but this is here and now, this is with us already,” he said.

As a measure of the worsening situation, Ocha, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – part of the UN secretariat that employs Sir John – has issued 13 emergency “flash” appeals so far this year. The number is three more than in 2005, which held the previous record.

Two years ago only half the international disasters dealt with by Ocha had anything to do with the climate; this year all but one of the 13 emergency appeals is climate-related. “And 2007 is not finished. We will certainly have more by the end of the year, I fear,” added Sir John, who is in charge of channelling international relief efforts to disaster areas.

More appeals were likely in the coming weeks, as floods hit west Africa. “All these events on their own didn’t have massive death tolls, but if you add all these little disasters together you get a mega disaster,” he said.

Sweet. Mega-disaster. Two things: first,

The Ocha appeals represent the tip of an iceberg since they are launched only with the agreement of the affected country. India was badly affected by floods that hit the rest of the Asian region in July. But unlike its neighbour, Pakistan, India did not call on the UN for help.

Ocha believes that 66 million people were made homeless or were otherwise affected across south Asia. The lives of several million more people were turned upside down across Africa. Sudan, Mozambique, Madagascar, Zambia and Uganda experienced disastrous floods, and Swaziland and Lesotho declared emergencies because of severe drought that reduced harvests by half.

The latest appeal from Ocha was launched yesterday, to try to raise emergency relief funds for Ghana, where more than 400,000 people are reported to be homeless as a result of flooding. Appeals may also be started for Togo and Burkina Faso.

I do agree that there are incentive problems, here. It is in the interests of the UN’s Office for the Co-Ordination of Humanitarian Affairs to paint a bleak picture. Or is it? This sort of talk does not make we want to donate money – it makes me think there’s nothing I can do (besides, I thought Bono was fixing this stuff?).

Secondly, and relatedly, there is the problem of us. Our brains, and the trouble we have dealing with things on a large scale (and, in my case, remembering where I saw the review of the book talking about this – I think it was in Wired magazine, but I can’t find it). Increase the scale of the problem, and you diminish our capacity to get our feeble minds around it. Besides, Dancing With the Stars is about to start.

So while I acknowledge a bias problem on the part of OCHA, I just don’t see that it’s significant enough to make me turn my back on the problem. Opinions differ, of course, but

… just as global warming starts to make itself felt, there are signs that “donor fatigue” has set in. Of about $338m (£166m) requested for Ocha’s 13 flash appeals this year, only $114m has so far come from donors.

Meanwhile, over at the blog Inhabitat comes a more pro-active voice, and one with which I am indeed sympathetic:

Architecture2030 is making their opposition to coal abundantly clear- continuing their anti-coal campaign, they’ve released a full page spread in The New York Times last Friday that read, “Want to stop global warming? Stop Coal.” What follows is a compelling case for ending our reliance on coal, supported by graphics and statistics that blame coal for global warming, along with a plan of action to repair the damage.

Based on their statistics, Architecture2030 predicts that based on our current rate of growth and coal usage, the planet will reach 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere by 2035, triggering everything from glacial melting to rising sea levels. We are currently at 385 ppm, and are increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at approx. 2 ppm annually.

The link to Architecture2030 is worth following. As is the remainder of the article. Like George Monbiot’s Heat, like the report Zero Carbon Britain, there is a lot here that should, by rights, be commonly understood. That it is possible to reduce, drastically, our impact on the planet, without drastically affecting our economies (the two precautionary principles of climate change do not need to be in conflict, I guess, is my point).

The flip-side to this, of course, is carbon sequestration, which does/may show some promise – but not without its continued use driving the technological change. I already know my stance on coal, though – yours?


1 comment so far

  1. I.P.A. Manning on

    “COOL IT”

    “Brilliant! A devastating critique of the prevailing climate change hysteria. This book provides an overwhelming case for re-assessing where exactly our policy priorities should lie if we are genuinely concerned with world welfare rather than with making noble—if futile—gestures that, at best, make us feel good but actually do a lot of harm.” —Wilfred Beckerman, professor emeritus of economics, Oxford University

    Bjorn Lomborg is the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2004 and has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Economist. He is presently an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, and in 2004 he started the Copenhagen Consensus, a conference of top economists who come together to prioritize the best solutions for the world’s greatest challenges.

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