How to respond to climate change

Posted on Posted in Geography

Climate change is perhaps the single most prevalent contemporary geographical issue and whilst there are contestations to both what extent climate is really changing, and the anthropogenic factor of such change, it seems often that the similar variability in opinions of approaches to response is overlooked. There are essentially two different responses to climate change, to mitigate its effects or simply to adapt to its consequences (Lomborg, 2007). But both of these responses contain different respective ideas.

 

Bodies such as the IPCC (2007) argue that we should act now rather than delay.  The most pertinent ‘act now’ policy emerging from such suggestions is the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement between 37 member states setting binding commitments in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Attaining Kyoto’s targets is largely managed at a national level, such as promoting cleaner fuels and sustainable living, however the protocol also offers mechanisms in order to mitigate. One such example is emissions trading, where by member states can sell their unused carbon allowance, forging a new tradable commodity (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, n.d.). The concept relies on competition between businesses to produce more efficient and sustainable methods of operation. It is often argued, however, that this isn’t enough and that the best option is to simply leave fossil fuels underground (Lohman, 2006). Commitments to the protocol are also not consistent, as of 2009 185 countries and the EU ha ratified the Kyoto Protocol, representing 65% of those developed countries to have initially been identified in bringing about climate change through their industrialisation (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, n.d.).

 

Carbon storage has also come under the limelight as a possible response on a national level. The concept is simple, pumping carbon dioxide in to porous bedrock of depths of around 800km. The incentives for doing such are plain, for as a response to Kyoto many countries heavily tax carbon dioxide, and so corporations are able to continue their methods of current operation and escape penalties. This is the case with Statoil who bury their carbon dioxide in saline aquifers in order to escape taxation from the Norwegian government. The concept also has a role in oil fields, where by gas is reinjected in to oilfields upon extraction, yet sadly still promotes the unsustainable consumption of fossil fuels. The concept has left environmentalists sceptical, citing the fear off gas leakage as their fear, but industry scientists assert that it is safe (Kanter, 2007).

 

Whether we should act now or later is a matter of debate. Whilst on the surface it may seem better to prevent the climate change now, we have to consider what can realistically be achieved in order to achieve the best results for society. Bjorn Lomborg (2007) argues in practical economics that it is actually cheaper to deal with the effects than to adapt. For instance, Kyoto would prevent 140,000 malaria deaths within the century, but if we tackled the problem directly we and save eighty-five million deaths at one-sixtieth of the cost. Further, whilst water scarcity is a problem it is actually counterproductive to implement Kyoto, as climate change improves water availability for 1.2 billion people. His workings claim we could adapt to climate change for $52 billion per year, as opposed to the hefty price tag of $180 billion per year upon Kyoto. But perhaps his most convincing argument is that in the long run Kyoto simply delays the ‘inevitable’ warming of 4.7°F by 2100 by just five years, at which point we would have to adapt anyway.

 

Adaption methods are not simply ‘dealing’ with the end results of climate change; there are opportunities to reduce the temperature with various techno-fixes. John Latham suggested increasing the albedo of low-lying clouds by aiding ocean spray, creating a greater number of cloud condensation nuclei. Predictions estimate that this could be implemented at 2% of the cost of Kyoto (Latham, 2007). The concept is widely contested, especially by environmental groups such as Greenpeace who simply appear dismissive at the want to adapt rather than prevent the root cause (Lomborg, 2007).

 

It’s important to remember that any action that reduces climate change and its effects is a good action; but rather the issue I have considered here is which angle is most effective. Should Lomborg’s predictions be true, it seems that perhaps adaption could be a better angle of attack for climate change. But there is one integral factor to further contemplate, and that is that he makes his judgements with reference to the Kyoto Protocol. Perhaps the policy is simply not up to scratch. Commitment to adaption is likely unwise without considering whether there are better alternatives to the Kyoto Protocol. Furthermore, as opinions are so widely divided, it would seem logical to find the middle ground, and split funding directly between mitigation and adaption.

List of References

IPCC. (2007). IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4): Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kanter, J. (2007).  New Technology Would Store Carbon Underground. [online]. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/06/business/worldbusiness/06iht-carbon.4.7006374.html [accessed 3rd February 2012].

Latham, J. (2007). Futuristic Fleet of ‘Cloudseeders’. [online]. Available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/6354759.stm [accessed 3rd February 2012].

Lohman, L. (2006). Carry On Polluting. [online]. Avaialble from: http://www.thecornerhouse.org.uk/resource/carry-polluting [accessed 3rd February 2012)

Lomborg, B. (2007). Cool It. New York: Random House Inc.

United Nations. (n.d.). Kyoto Protocol. [online]. Available from: http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php [accessed 3rd February 2012].