Stern calls for action
In November 2006, when Nicholas Stern issued a report on the economics of climate change, the “sternness” of his predictions would not have escaped anyone. This was not a report by a climatologist, but an economist. Calling climate change the “greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen,” Mr Stern laid out the possible scenarios if global temperatures continued to rise.If no action is taken on emissions, the Stern report predicts a 75% possibility of global temperatures rising by two to three degrees. There is a 50% chance that average global temperatures could rise by 50C. Such changes would drastically alter the geography of the world.
The last Ice Age ended some 10,000 years ago. Today, the world today is about 50C warmer than the last Ice Age. This means that it took thousands of years for a rise in 50C. Yet, just in the last 100 years, temperatures have gone up by nearly a degree. And the Stern Report is talking about a probable rise in 2-30C in just the next 50 years.
The impact of climate change on the world’s water resources would be staggering. Melting glaciers will increase flood risks and then severely reduce water supplies. Declining crop yields will bring in food scarcity. There will be more instances of extreme weather events such as storms, droughts, forest fires, flooding and heat waves. In fact, it is expected that weather patterns such as El Nino and monsoons would shift.
Extreme weather events are already being witnessed more often nowadays. Hurricanes and typhoons are wreaking more destruction than before. This very month, Australia experienced freakish wintry conditions just weeks before the start of its summer. Bushfires, hail, snow, thunderstorms and chilly wind broke out in different part of Australia all within a short span of time, throwing life out of gear. In fact, the country’s biggest insurance company has made grim predictions about climate change.
Rising sea levels could cause some two million people to be permanently displaced by the middle of the century. Some of the cities threatened by sea level rises include London, Shanghai, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
The water and wastewater treatment industry will have to brace itself for hard times ahead. Drying rivers and desertification combined with pollution will drive up the cost of water treatment. Extreme precipitation can cause serious sewer overflows and destruction of infrastructure, which need to be planned for. Encroaching seas can contaminate fresh water supplies. Desalination and wastewater reuse might become the norm rather than the exception. The treatment industry also needs to become more energy-efficient and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the report, bringing down the level of emissions worldwide will have a cost. “Costs will be incurred as the world shifts from a high-carbon to a low-carbon trajectory. But there will also be business opportunities as the markets for low carbon, high-efficiency good and services expand.” Many low-carbon technologies are more expensive than fossil-fuel alternatives, but costs of technologies do tend to fall over time.
Collective action is urgently needed from governments, businesses and citizens around the world to halt the march of climate change. It is still possible to avoid the worst impacts by acting collectively now.