Moral climate hazard and real disaster risks

1:01pm GMT: There’s the makings of scandal in the latest shaft of insight published yesterday by the Stockholm Environment Institute. In Development without Carbon: Climate and the Global Economy through the 21st Century, Elizabeth Stanton looks at the economic growth assumptions that drive projections of future emissions on which UN climate agreements will be based.

Her conclusion is disturbing to say the least:

Projections of slow economic growth in the developing world….tend to create the expectation that the poorest countries will use up a relatively small share of the global 21st century emissions budget, leaving more “emissions space” for the high- and middle-income countries. (This) has the effect of weakening the urgent call for rich countries to reduce their emissions.

If I understand it correctly, the report observes that economic models devised by the International Energy Agency are borrowed by other key research bodies including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IEA assumes that growth in sub-Saharan Africa will continue to trail the tigers of India and China far into the 21st century.

Unfortunately the SEI paper buries this issue within its very serious discussion about the relationship between poverty and emissions scenarios. The Institute would perform a valuable service by carving out the core injustice conclusion into a succinct press briefing note.

8:09pm GMT: Pity us poor journalists and bloggers striving to articulate sound climate change stories with the latest IPCC report poised over our shaky savvy on probability. I’ve resolved to reduce its complex findings on extreme weather and disaster risk as follows:

we’re dead certain that temperatures will rise but long range weather forecasting will be a problem

IPCC won’t commit on rainfall projections. Fair enough but I think the report’s low-octane interpretation of uncertainty does rather overlook the precautionary principle demanded by the 1992 UN Convention. Journalists such as Richard Black of the BBC appear willing to toe this line but Joe Romm on Think Progress is in no doubt about their doubts:

The thing to remember about IPCC reports is that pretty much everyone involved has to sign off on every word, so it is inevitably a least common denominator document.

The hyper-caution does unfortunately lead the unwary IPCC report writer into some awful holes:

The very likely contribution of mean sea level rise to increased extreme coastal high water levels, coupled with the likely increase in tropical cyclone maximum wind speed, is a specific issue for tropical small island states.

“A specific issue!” Make that a survival issue please.


this post was first published by OneWorld UK