Global Warming and Adaptability

December 15, 2011

The Durban pit-stop in the endless array of climate summits has just ended, and predictably it reaffirmed the United Nations' strong belief that the most important response to global warming is to secure a strong deal to cut carbon emissions.  What is almost universally ignored, however, is that if we want to help real people overcome real problems we need to focus first on adaptation, says Bjørn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

  • For example, what we can say clearly is that if we want to help New Orleans or other areas at-risk for hurricanes, cutting emissions will have virtually no impact for many decades.
  • Bolstering hurricane defenses through improved levees and wetlands could, however, make a world of difference.

This is even more true for hurricane impacts in Third World countries.

  • When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, it cost 10 percent of the state's gross domestic product (GDP) and killed 41 people.
  • But when the similar-sized Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras, it cost the country two-thirds of its GDP and killed more than 10,000.
  • Tackling hurricane impacts in developing countries is not about cutting carbon but about adaptation and economic growth to improve resilience.

This is true whether we look at hurricanes or at other problems exacerbated by global warming.  Malaria cases, for instance, will increase along with mosquito populations, while food production in many developing countries will decrease.

The first step in focusing on adaptation is measuring it.  The Global Adaptation Institute, led by former World Bank Managing Director Juan Jose Daboub, publishes the Global Adaptation Index, which shows how vulnerable countries are to global warming and how prepared they are to tackle it.  The challenge lies not merely in reducing vulnerability but also in getting the structures in place so governments and investors can tackle adaptation in the most effective manner possible.  The good news is we can improve lives today while building the crucial infrastructure needed for tomorrow.

Source: Bjørn Lomborg, "Global Warming and Adaptability," Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2011.

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