The World Economic Forum has finally seen the light. Or maybe we should say finally felt the heat.
Every year the Forum publishes the results of a Global Risk Perception Survey conducted among a range of companies. Those participating are asked to score global risks in terms of their likelihood, and in terms of their impact. Risks that score high on both the likelihood that they may occur, and their global impact if they do occur are obviously the ones that most threaten people’s security.
The 13th report on Global Risks was released last week and the risks associated with climate change are front and center. Shown below is the top right quadrant of a chart which shows the likelihood and the impact of almost 30 identified risks. The top right bit of the chart is the most important part: it shows the risks with the greatest likelihood of occurring, and those which will have the greatest impact if they do.
Extreme weather events, natural disasters, and the failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation, are judged to be the top three most credible, most likely, and most substantial risks. But take a closer look at the other risks assessed to be both probable and serious. Apart from cyberattacks, all the other risks are associated with the changing climate.
Climate change is disrupting weather patterns across sub Saharan Africa and Asia and drought is rapidly becoming the new normal, so water crises are absolutely a climate change phenomena. The same goes for food crises: as drought takes hold, and rainfall becomes unreliable and unpredictable, agricultural production declines and in many regions fails completely. A spike in food prices is one instant result. This situation sparks social unrest, street protests, and induces families to consider moving somewhere safer and more secure. The young men are the first to move out and to search for a way to get to Europe or North America. Much of the large-scale involuntary migration witnessed in 2017 can be attributed to the effects of climate change on agricultural production and water. Heatwaves and drought force people to move.
The World Economic Forum is not a group known to make exaggerated claims or wild guesses. In fact, they are right on the button. The graph below from NOAA shows the number of billion dollar weather and climate disasters that have occurred in the USA since 1990. Last year was the costliest year on record for extreme weather: damages reached 306.2 billion dollars –primarily due to hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey.
These numbers are just for the USA, but it’s a reasonable assumption that the same pattern and trend can be detected in Canada, Europe, and probably worldwide.
So the changing climate is spawning increasingly frequent extreme weather events that are costing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and destruction. And Puerto Rico has still not fully recovered from the extensive damage inflicted by Hurricane Maria.
So what’s the takeaway here?
Things are getting worse—not better: there are no signs that the rate of increase of atmospheric CO2 is declining (we are now at about 404 ppm); global emissions of greenhouse gases have ticked up again in 2017 after holding steady for the previous 3 years; and the oil companies are still spending millions on exploration. Like we need more oil…
It’s time to get serious—but there are few signs that this is going to happen.
America is stalled. Emasculated.
And Canada as usual is half asleep.