Escalating Costs of Global Warming All Too Evident as UN Climate Treaty Talks Open

Evidence is all too clear of the mounting cost of climate changeAll eyes are on Durban, South Africa this week as representatives from 194 nations meet to try to negotiate a global climate change treaty and supporting plans to mitigate and adapt to a warming, more volatile climate.

As if weighing in on the debate, Nature sent an unusual, torrential storm Durban’s way on the eve of the conference opening. Eight people had been reported killed as some 15,000 UNFCCC delegates crowded into the COP 17 conference center to hear South African President Jacob Zuma’s opening address.

“Although the unseasonable storm cannot be directly linked to climate change, it is the kind of extreme weather that scientists say is happening more often,” said Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official, according to a Zee News report.

The effects of global warming are increasingly apparent, as are its costs – drought and famine in the Horn of Africa; historic droughts and agricultural losses in the American southwest; the flooding of Bangkok, large parts of Pakistan and other major Asian population centers; rising tides and seawater creeping higher along Florida’s Atlantic coast; the lowest levels of Arctic sea ice in the past 1,450 years- the indicators are too numerous to list in a blog post, and it keeps on growing.

More Troubling Signs, and Escalating Costs

Yet we humans continue to spew ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Greenhouse gas emissions “have increased beyond the worst predictions of the UN’s climate experts – exceeding the worst of seven emissions predictions laid down by the UN’s World Meteorological Organisations,” Rob Waugh writes in a Daily Mail report.

“The World Meteorological Organisation said heat-trapping carbon dioxide concentrations in the air have increased by 39 per cent to 389 parts per million – the highest concentrations since the start of the industrial era in 1750.” That humans are primarily responsible for this increase should be unquestionable, and should be cause for concerted global action on the part of world leaders.

Oddly enough, global temperature has been rising as well: 2010 ranked as the warmest year on record, making it a three-way tie for the warmest year ever recorded. And guess what? The other two years – 1998 and 2005 – both just happened to have occurred in the last 12, according to the WMO.

Global warming’s effects on agriculture are particularly disturbing given a 7-billion and rising world population. Adequately feeding all of us – a projected 9 billion by 2050 – will require a 70% increase in global food production, according to the latest research from the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) released Monday in Rome. The challenge is nothing if not daunting.

“Russia lost 13.3 million acres of crops, or about 17 percent of its production, due to a months-long heat wave. Drought in the Horn of Africa has killed 60 percent of Ethiopia’s cattle and 40 percent of its sheep. Floods in September have raised the price of rice by 25 percent in Thailand and 30 percent in Vietnam,” according to the FAO as cited in Zee News’ report.

High Time to Move Past Denial

Climate change skeptics and deniers would have us believe that this is merely coincidence. The data and/or models are faulty, they would have people believe. They claim that climate change and global warming are hoaxes. That a conspiracy is afoot between liberal politicians, environmentalists, the large and growing number of chief executives of the world’s largest corporations, financial institutions and investment groups, the majority of the world’s best scientists who are actually actively researching climate change, and whoever else of significance happens to agree that concerted global action to mitigate and adapt to global warming and climate change is needed, and needed now.

We will never scientifically prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a causal link between global warming, climate change and anthropogenic CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions exists. But what has been amassed and proven in terms of scientific theory over 100 years of climate science is more than enough cause for concerted global action now.

If that’s just all too scientific and theoretical, the ever-growing body of empirical evidence should be more than sufficient to drive home the point that the climate is warming. The costs are already substantial, and the probability that they will escalate further in decades to come is increasing.

While expectations that UNFCCC negotiators will reach an accord are low, some optimism remains.
Emphasizing the importance of developed and developing world countries compromising and reaching an agreement on hard, equitable and enforceable targets to reduce CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, the UN’s Figueres stated that “future commitments by industrial countries to slash greenhouse gas emissions is ‘the defining issue of this conference,'” according to Zee News.

While acknowledging the enormity of the task, she then quoted anti-apartheid legend and former South African President Nelson Mandela, who said, “It always seems impossible until it is done,” Zee News reported.


Image credit: Sailing Yacht WingsSail

Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger
A product of the New York City public school system, Andrew Burger went on to study geology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, work in the wholesale money and capital markets for a major Japanese bank and earn an MBA in finance.

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  1. Scientists must be careful in their claims pertaining to global climate change. By the sheer enormity of such a subject, any educated person would know that the science is not settled. Perhaps the scientists are wrong. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledges that the study of climate change and its consequences is unparalleled in the scientific arena; therefore, the “expert judgment (from the scientific community) on the correctness and completeness of current scientific understanding” on climate change is strongly extrapolative. This is valid because the future outcomes of climate change are not as easy to study as the effects of tobacco or the outcome of eating fatty foods. Consequently, it is feasible that climate change is indeed cyclic and/or will not pose as great a threat to humanity as currently reported.
    Nevertheless, putting aside all the uncertainty surrounding climate change, humans should without the need of persuasion or influence, already possess reverence for their home, a home that needs to sustain life for future generations. Placing value in an uncertainty like global climate change is a risk worth taking.

  2. Cyclic, yes…Uncertain, yes, in degree, but undoubtedly happening now and more rapidly than anticipated as detailed in the greater number of extreme weather events taking place, which are already causing large losses in terms of human life, as well as agricultural production, economic activity, etc…

    Imprecise, certainly…but expecting high levels of precision when it comes to predicting climate change with high degree of accuracy, especially over shorter time frames – which may are still be considered long in human terms as we’re talking about climate – is not only misguided, it merely diverts and distracts from people gaining a better understanding of what is known and thinking about what can be done to help mitigate and adapt to it…

    Moreover, you don’t necessarily need a high degree of accuracy and precision in many situations, including climate change — broader trends are more than enough to give us a very good sense of which way things are going and where we’re headed…What we have at present regarding climate change gives us that and more…


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