Climate change: consensus forming around adaptation

Climate change is expected to increase problems such as malaria, hunger, water shortage and coastal flooding. In a series of studies, Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Policy Analysis examined the relative benefits and costs of mitigating carbon emissions versus adapting to climate change. He concludes that in some cases mitigation has small benefits, but that adaptation can produce the same or greater benefits at a fraction of the cost.

Among the mitigation scenarios Goklany compared to adaptation:

  • Meeting the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reductions required by the Kyoto protocol – an average for developed economies of 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012 – carries an estimated total cost of more than $165 billion annually (in 2003 dollars).

  • While Kyoto will not halt the increase in the level of atmospheric CO2, more aggressive proposals to stabilise it at 550 parts per million (ppm) – which is higher than today – would cost trillions of dollars.

  • By contrast, a multi-pronged effort of "focused adaptation" – to solve the problems climate change is expected to exacerbate – would cost approximately $10 billion annually.

    Some government officials are beginning to acknowledge that adaptation is a superior response to threats posed by global warming, says H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Centre for Policy Analysis.

    At the July 2005 G-8 summit, Prime Minister Tony Blair attempted to get the world's industrial powers to agree to stricter limits on greenhouse gases. However, the British House of Lords' economic committee issued a report that concluded efforts to prevent further warming are likely to fail and the costs are likely to be quite high.

    Source: H. Sterling Burnett, Climate Change: Consensus Forming around Adaptation, National Centre for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 527, September 19, 2005.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 11 October 2005
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