Environmental challenges in the media
A number of articles and reports were published this week about the huge challenges that we are facing on our small planet. It is too much to digest in one weekend, especially the more than 300 pages of the interesting third ‘Turn Down The Heat’ report of the World Bank. Here are some analyses and statistics that you don’t want to miss.
A catastrophic high-intensity wildfire in the exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl’s ruined nuclear power plant could release clouds of radioactive particles that could send radioactivity as far as Britain. The Guardian reports on the urgent call from a consortium of Ukrainian and international scientists for a $13.5m program to safely manage Chernobyl’s forests.
CBS Evening News reports on the world’s biggest water-diversion project in China. Some 27,000 rivers have disappeared in China due to industrialization, dams and drought. China’s government is planning to spend $80 billion to build nearly 2,700 miles of waterways — almost enough to stretch from New York to Los Angeles.
A report of The Royal Society says governments have not grasped the risk of booming populations in coastal cities as sea level rise and extreme events become more severe. The BBC quotes the lead author Prof Georgina Mace on the combined factors of climate change and populations growth: “It is impossible for us to avoid the worst and most unexpected events. But it is not impossible to be prepared for an ever-changing world. We must organize ourselves right away.”
The best, and also the most alarming, of this week’s reading on the state of our planet is the new “Turn Down the Heat” report, subtitled “Confronting the New Climate Normal”. This is the third in a series of reports commissioned by the World Bank Group from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. Its value lies, like the previous reports, in presenting an overall picture of what we know about climate change and the impact that it will have. It presents some research that you may already have read (like the locked in extra 0.6°C or the studies on the impact of extreme weather on the Arab Spring) but it does so in a consistent and readable manner. Combined with a lot of new information on the state of our planet this report should give all of us sleepless nights and convince us of the need for urgent measures. A few examples from the foreword of the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim:
In Brazil, at 2°C warming, crop yields could decrease by up to 70 percent for soybean and up to 50 percent for wheat. In the Middle East and North Africa crop yields could decrease by up to 30 percent at 1.5–2°C and by almost 60 percent at 3–4°C. At the same time, migration and climate-related pressure on resources might increase the risk of conflict. In Macedonia, yield losses are projected of up to 50 percent for maize, wheat, vegetables and grapes at 2°C warming. In northern Russia, forest dieback and thawing of permafrost threaten to amplify global warming as stored carbon and methane are released into the atmosphere, giving rise to a self-amplifying feedback loop.
Dr. Kim concludes that many of the worst projected climate impacts outlined in this latest report could still be avoided by holding warming below 2°C. But, this will require substantial technological, economic, institutional and behavioral change. It will require leadership at every level of society. More and more voices are arguing that is possible to grow greener without necessarily growing slower. Today, we know that action is urgently needed on climate change, but it does not have to come at the expense of economic growth. We need smart policy choices that stimulate a shift to clean public transport and energy efficiency in factories, buildings and appliances can achieve both growth and climate benefits.
The report starts with a 20 page executive summary. I have mainly been reading in the Middle East and North Africa sections, like the research done on the relationship between climate change and security. The report refers to the interesting study of Lagi and others in 2011 on the relationship between food prices and stability. Let me end with the graph that summarizes the research, keeping in mind the predicted declining crop yields and the growing demand for food from a rapidly growing middle class in the world, which is expected to more than double in numbers in twenty years.