June 24, 2014

NRCan, the World Bank and Henry Paulson on the climate bubble

2014_06_24_NRCanIn the last few days we’ve seen a number of high level reports, commentary and records broken with respect to the multi-faceted risks associated with climate change.  Only days ago NOAA reported that global average temperature for May 2014 was 0.74°C (1.33°F) higher than the global average since records began in 1880. Earlier today Natural Resources Canada released: Canada in a Changing Climate: Sector Perspectives on Impacts and Adaptation – an update to an earlier 2008 science assessment report, From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate.  In the Canadian context Natural Resources Canada reports surface air temperatures in Canada have risen 1.5 °C in period the 1950 – 2010. The complete report is now available from Natural Resources Canada. While temperatures continue to rise, we’ve become quite adept at developing reports documenting this reality. In addition to the Canadian report released today, the World Bank just issued its own report: Climate-smart development: adding up the benefits of actions that help build prosperity, end poverty and combat climate change. According to the report global GDP could rise by between $1.8 – $2.6 trillion dollars, by 2030 if governments were to adopt policies aimed at improving energy efficiency, waste management and public transportation infrastructure. On Sunday June 21st 2014, the New York Times published an op-ed  by former secretary of the US Treasury (2006 – 2009), Henry Paulson. Paulson’s op-ed entitled The Coming Climate Crash: Lessons for Climate Change in the 2008 Recession spoke to the tremendous risks associated with underestimating the costs of climate change, similar to the costs of underestimating the financial bubble that burst so spectacularly in 2008. Across the pond, Nicolas Stern’s recent report in The Economic Journal also reiterated that the costs associated with climate change have been underestimated. Other prominent bankers calling for action on climate change include the International Monetary Fund’s Christine Lagarde.
Shortly before Paulson’s op-ed was published President Obama used his executive powers to enact national legislation to limit carbon pollutio2014_06_24_John Olivern from American power plants. Despite a recent judicial challenge of this regulation in the U.S. Supreme Court key aspects of the legislation were upheld by the justices by a 7-2 majority. At the national and international level the climate jockeying is well underway.  In boardrooms and courtrooms and increasingly living rooms, as evidenced by the viral videos by John Oliver, John Stewart and Showtimes’s primetime series Years of Living Dangerously the risks associated with climate change and its impacts are increasingly resounding at the policy level as well as that of pop-culture. It is also important to note the growing number of fossil fuel divestment campaigns underway globally. Only yesterday another large US university chose to divest  $670 million from fossil fuels. That being said, how will the results of glossy reports (well-written, researched and compiled by some very smart people) and op-eds inform real action on climate change with respect to mitigation and adaptation where people live and work?

Whether we’re discussing fractions of a degree or trillions of dollars, it is important to keep in mind that a changing climate is already impacting the health, wealth and security of million’s of people around the world.  Will climate change bring the global economy to its knees and with it global development gains (and the post 2008 ‘recovery’) or will national and international efforts underpin a revolution in our management of the global atmosphere the environment, the societies and economies it supports?

Stewart Dutfield is a program and communications manager with the Ontario Climate Consortium. His interests lie in climate change risk management and climate change communications.

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