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“Half the work, twice the effect” – from a Chinese proverb to the cost-effective responses to the climate crisis

ucftaww6 March 2014

Blog by Wenjia Cai, UCL Lancet Commission

Right now I am sitting in my office in Beijing, where the air quality has been labeled by “hazardous” for almost a week. I am suffering from my sore throat, but I have nowhere to escape.

I believe this is the kind of frustration faced by many people, when they know climate change is threatening their health. The negative health impacts are happening, and are very likely to cost us a fortune.

Some simple but serious facts [1]-[3] are shown below. Of the world’s total population,

Wei 1

These are the most vulnerable people in the world. They are never the biggest contributors to the climate change crisis, but they are the ones being affected the most. Their health has been greatly threatened by droughts, floods, hunger, vector-borne diseases, home damages and health services interrupts.

Take hurricanes and storms for example. Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast coast of the United States, causing widespread damage and around 100 people died. However, in the developing world, such storms take a much greater toll. In 2007 and 2008, two very severe storms – Sidr and Nargis – caused the deaths of more than 10,000 and around 138,000 people in Bangladesh and Myanmar, respectively. In fact, statistics shows that only 5% of tropical cyclones occur in the north Indian Ocean, but they account for 95% of such casualties worldwide[4].

To respond to the climate crisis, greenhouse gas mitigation certainly aims for the root of the problem; yet some simple and low-cost adaptation measures can have instant effects.

Peter J. Webster, a professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, advocates for the establishment of network between the forecasters of global weather and climate in the developed world, and research, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the less-developed world[4]. He estimated that such a network could produce 10-15-day forecasts for south and east Asia for a wide range of hydrometeorological hazards (including slow-rise monsoon floods, droughts and tropical cyclones), which will cost as little as $2~3 million a year, but save billions of dollars and thousands of lives.

On the basis of a World Bank report[5], one analysis concluded that about $ 40 was saved for every dollar invested in the regional forecasting and warning system. 

Fortunately, as commented by Webster, Bangladesh already benefited from such network. In 2007 and 2008, Bangladesh experienced three major floods. Each was forecast successfully ten days in advance and mitigation steps were taken.

This is one successful story of how we can quickly adapt to the coming climate crisis in a cost-effective way. The following table is excerpted from the major-task list of the “National Strategy of Climate Change Adaption” in China[6], published in November 2013, which may also provide us some hints on the other cost-effective options.

 

Major tasks to protect human health under climate change context in China
Improve the health and epidemic prevention system construction –strengthen disease prevention and control system–amend the indoor and working environmental standards–monitor drinking water hygiene conditions
Carry out monitoring and evaluation, as well as public information services –evaluate climate change impacts on the health of vulnerable people–establish the health-related weather monitoring and early warning networks, and public information service system
Strengthen the emergency system construction –develop and improve the health emergency plans for heat stroke, snow and ice, haze and other extreme weather and climate events

 

We are standing in the historic moment of addressing the climate crisis. Any delayed action may result in irreversible change and unaffordable costs. To make the right strategy, the traditional cost-effective analysis (CBA) can shed some light and help us choose within the large pool of adaptation and mitigation options. Obviously our choices will lean towards those options which don’t need high investment and will eventually pay for itself. In fact, there are many such options which can have the “twice the effect” with “half the work”. Our report will try to identify them. It’s also expected that, after considering the monetized health benefits, those options will become much more cost-effective, which can strengthen the will and catalyze the actions from politicians and investors.

Wenjia Cai is an assistant professor of Global Change Economics in Center for Earth System Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China. E-mail: wcai@tsinghua.edu.cn. The blog content only shows the views from the author, and cannot represent the opinions of any organizations or working groups.

References:
[1] World Bank, 2013. World Development Indicators 2013. http://data.worldbank.org/region/WLD (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)
[2] Da Silva J, 2013.. World Food Day 2013: Towards Sustainable Food Systems. http://www.fao.org//about/who-we-are/director-gen/faodg-opinionarticles/detail/en/c/203152/ (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)
[3] World Health Organization, 2013. 10 Facts on Climate Change and Health. http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/climate_change/facts/en/index5.html (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)
[4] Webster P, 2013. Improve weather forecasts for the developing world. Nature, 493: 17-19.
[5] Teisberg TJ, Weiher RF, 2009. Background Paper on the Benefits and Costs of Early Warning Systems for Major Natural Hazards. https://www.gfdrr.org/sites/gfdrr.org/files/New%20Folder/Teisberg_EWS.pdf (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)
[6] National Development and Reform Commission, 2013. China’s National Strategy of Climate Change Adaption. http://qhs.ndrc.gov.cn/gzdt/W020131213626583538862.pdf (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)

 

‘Climate, resilience and adaptation’

ucftaww4 March 2014

Blog by Victor Galaz; Associate Professor, Stockholm Resilience Centre (Stockholm University)
Join the conversation and follow Victor on Twitter

The previous Lancet Commission of 2009 made the point completely clear, still the message tends to get lost in the climate debate. Climate change is fundamentally a challenge for human health. The message is worth reiterating. Policy-makers, non-governmental actors, business and civil society are in desperate need of trustworthy assessments of innovative policies, institutions and proposals which could help us stay ahead of human health challenges posed by climate change.

Working group 2 of the Lancet Commission is entitled “Resilience and Adaptation Responses”, and consists of an international interdisciplinary group of prominent scholars working at the interface of health, global change, and resilience (see membership). Our ambition is to bring together and feature promising adaptation approaches; discuss their costs and scalability; and identify possible win-win trajectories. This is far from a simple task for several reasons.

First, climate adaptation often entails a combination of several types of interventions. That is, they often include changes in economic incentives, the placement of new technologies, modifications in natural systems such as ecosystems, institutional reforms, and new forms of decision-making and funding arrangements. In addition, these interventions differ considerably across sectors (e.g. agriculture vs. energy production), and the scale of interest (e.g. local, national and regional).

Second, while some of the human health impacts of climate change can be partly predictable, gradual and even reversible, other might emerge as surprises. That is, events that fundamentally differ from expectations and with the potential to trigger health crises – events that require prompt interventions despite large uncertainties and limited time to act. Hence adaptation policies and institutions not only need to match known threats, but also need to be robust to surprising changes created by human, environmental and technological uncertainty.

Third, there are likely to be limits to adaptation. Bluntly put: how far we push Earth’s climate and ecosystems before the human health repercussions are of such scale, speed and intensity that human societies will systematically fail to adapt? And if that is the case, when are policies, which support transformation, rather than adaptation, needed?

These are three major issues that this working group will try to address. There are no easy answers, nor magic “silver bullet” solutions. But as we intend to elaborate, innovative policies, institutions and proposals on possible means to adapt to future human health challenges do exist. And some of these are possibly scalable, effective and entail a potential to create multiple “win-wins” afar from improving human health. Our hope is that our work will contribute to a much-needed focus on health solutions, and not just health problems created by climate change.

Commissioners of WG2 of the Lancet Commission 

  • Prof. Yin Yongyuan, Tsinghua University (China), co-lead
  • Ass. Prof. Victor Galaz, Stockholm Resilience Centre (Sweden), co-lead
  • Prof Geogina Mace, UCL and Royal Society (UK)
  • Professor Bing Xu, School of Environmental Science and Engineering, Tsinghua University
  • Dr. Li Moxuan, Center for Earth System Science, Tsinghua University
  • Dr. Koko Warner, United Nations University
  • Prof. Thomas Elmqvist, Stockholm Resilience Centre (Sweden)
  • Prof. Delia Grace, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya
  • Dr. Sukaina Bharwani, Stockholm Environment Institute-Oxford and weAdapt

Climate change, extreme events and human health

ucbtgma3 March 2014

Blog by Professor Georgina Mace, Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research (CBER)

Join the conversation and follow Georgina on twitter

The past few months have highlighted the impacts that extreme events can have on people’s lives and livelihoods. Ranging from floods in England, storms in Wales, hurricane Haiyan’s devastating effects in the Philippines to extreme heat in Australia, we have seen striking examples of cases where large numbers of people are exposed to natural hazards with which they are poorly equipped to deal. Whether or not these events can be attributed to anthropogenic climate change, they highlight a few points about how vulnerable people are to natural events when those events occur on a scale and at a level of intensity that current systems cannot cope with. It is striking to observe how when infrastructure such as roads and electricity fail, people everywhere suffer a great deal, and the very young, the weak, the elderly and the chronically ill, suffer more than the rest.

The work for the Lancet Commission report, CLIMATE CRISIS: EMERGENCY ACTIONS TO PROTECT HUMAN HEALTH’ will focus on the potential health impacts of climate change on people. These may have often been eclipsed in many discussions by current concerns about economic growth and failing infrastructures. But health and wellbeing is our primary concern. We will review and highlight some immediate costs to people’s wellbeing that will be a consequence of climate change. We are concerned with people’s mental and physical health, their quality of life, and sense of place and security.

My own interest in this area has come about from studying the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and wild species. As for people, the same amount of climate change has very different outcomes for different ecosystems and species, and is generally related to their history (what they have experienced in the past), their biology (their life history and habits) and their geography. Certain kinds of species which have very low tolerances for environmental variability, poor dispersal capability or adaptive potential will be much more vulnerable to even modest changes to climate variables than those that are less sensitive and more resilient. We have mapped out areas of the world where the most vulnerable species are expected to be exposed to the most extreme changes (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0065427). I think this work has relevance to people in a couple of different ways. First, it is likely that the areas where there are sensitive ecosystems and species will also be areas where people may be most at risk because the world’s ecosystems are central to supporting people’s basic needs for a good life; for example, food, freshwater, protection from hazards and diseases. Secondly, a recent history of coping with extreme events prepares both ecosystems and people better, and geography is an important determinant of both environmental extremes and basic resources.

Considering extreme events and their impacts on people, it is very difficult to develop resilience to events when they occur at low frequency and when there is little personal experience or community history of dealing with them. By definition, extreme events are rare; perhaps one in a hundred years or more is what is expected on average. But given the local variability of weather and storm patterns, and the fact that we measure many different events, something unusual will be happening somewhere most of the time. In addition to that, recent increases in population numbers, in wealth and mobility means that people are moving to new areas more often, and they often choose to live near water or on coasts and near the sea. These are areas most exposed to many extreme events and are already home to most of the world’s people. Space is limited and so increasingly people are building homes and living in more vulnerable areas such as river flood plains and coastal zones. Recent increases in the impacts of extreme events are mostly attributable to an increased exposure of people to hazards such as earthquakes, floods and storms, rather than to an increased frequency of such events. So, in thinking about climate change and the impacts on people it is important to separate the intensity and frequency of the events themselves from the impacts that they may have on people.

Recent storm and flooding events have mostly been abrupt and violent. Such events are predicted to increase in frequency under climate change, so whatever the cause, they can show us clearly the kinds of problems that future generations will have to face. But of course, not all such events are so dramatic; there are also slow onset events that will ultimately be devastating for some people too, for example sea level rise causing coastal flooding and inundation, oceans acidulation affecting marine systems, heavier precipitation due to the greater amounts of water held by a warmer atmosphere and severe heat and periods of drought affecting food and water supplies.  All of these will have direct and indirect impacts on people’s lives and affect health and wellbeing in many ways.

Understanding how the climate will change, and how this will influence the frequency and severity of slow onset and extreme events is very important. We need this information to plan and prepare for what may come. But on its own this information is not enough. We also need to look at where the risks are greatest because there are large numbers people who will be exposed to the hazards, and maybe where these populations include people who are especially at risk.

Among the people exposed to extreme events, some are much more vulnerable than others. In the UK we might be concerned especially for the elderly and people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans it became clear that for some people affected by the event, their social and financial wealth made it easier for them to pick up a new life elsewhere; not often an option for the poor. The same comparisons are useful globally. We can ask where the most vulnerable people are, and which of these are most likely to face climate change related hazards that they will have difficulty dealing with. This was an approach taken in a recent report from the ODI, UK Met Office and Risk Management Solutions which examined the relationship between disasters and poverty, and concluded that:

– extreme weather linked to climate change is increasing and will likely cause more disasters.

– such disasters, especially those linked to drought, can be the most important cause of impoverishment, cancelling progress on poverty reduction.

– Up to 325 million extremely poor people will be living in the 49 most hazard-prone countries in 2030, the majority in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The ODI report highlights overlaps in geographical areas where poverty, climate-change related hazards and weak governance are likely to overlap, and hence areas of highest priority to consider to alleviate future suffering.

G Mace Blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are developing this approach for the Lancet report to consider the evidence that climate change will increase extreme events, what and where these may be, who they will affect most severely, and what the options are that people will have to avoid the worst impacts.

The work being undertaken here will also link to a report on Resilience to climate change related extreme event being prepared as a science-policy output from the Royal Society

The impact of human-driven climate change on human health

zcfag573 March 2014

Blog by Phoebe Lewis, UCL-Energy MSc student
Join in the conversation – Follow Phoebe on Twitter

Climate Change and Human Health 1

 

 

 

 

Weather-related events, including heat waves, storms and floods, killed more than 70,000 people in 2010.  These events and their impact are projected to increase in frequency and intensity as human-driven climate change makes its presence more obvious.  Among other repercussions, this will have major implications for human health and, in a number of cases, raise mortality rates.

Heat waves 1

 

 

 

 

Heat waves

The rising global surface temperatures associated with climate change make weather patterns less predictable.  This leads to an increased frequency of extreme weather conditions: both heat waves and freezes are seen more often.  While freezes do cause deaths in communities that are not accustomed to such low temperatures, mortality rates are higher in heat waves.  In fact, the heat wave in 2003 that saw high temperatures and aridity in many parts of the world led to around 35,000 deaths in Europe.

While these temperatures were indeed high, the main problem was not that they were outside the range in which humans can theoretically survive.  The problem was that the temperatures were outside the range expected. This trigger temperature varies between regions.  For instance, heat related deaths occur when the temperature exceeds 22.3°C in London while 25.7°C is the threshold in Athens.  Europeans were simply unprepared for such abnormal weather.  They therefore did not have the appropriate housing and ventilation to be able to accommodate such high temperature.

Air pollution 1

 

 

 

 

 

Air pollution

Such heat waves can in turn lead to increased problems of air pollution.  In rural areas, the aridity that accompanies these high temperatures can lead to forest fires.  The carbon released from these is not only damaging to human respiratory health, but can destroy the agriculture that locals depend on as well as causing deaths.  In urban areas, these higher temperatures can lead to the formation of volatile organic compounds and ozone, which are highly damaging to human respiratory systems.

Flooding 1

 

 

 

 

Storms and flooding

On the other end of the weather event spectrum, storms and floods will also increase in frequency.  Excesses of water can lead to cross-contamination and therefore the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery.  Cholera is particularly related to wet weather.  Standing water creates breeding grounds for disease-carrying organisms including mosquitoes that will spread malaria and yellow fever.   Finally, sediment moved with the floodwater may carry soil-borne diseases with it, like anthrax.  Sediment can also transport toxic contaminants such as organic chemicals and heavy metals, which can be poisonous.  Southeast Asia will be hit particularly badly by these repercussions of climate change.  The number of cases in the region of malaria, diarrhoea and malnutrition is expected to rise by 220 million people.  Africa follows closely behind with an increase of 190 million cases.

Malnutrition 1

 

 

 

 

Malnutrition

Malnutrition will be exacerbated by the droughts and disasters associated with the weather variability that characterises human-driven climate change.  The unpredictability of rainfall will undermine the agriculture that we all, and especially the poorest of our global community, depend on for sustenance.  Furthermore, food production, accessibility and affordability are increasingly compromised as oil prices, meat consumption and biofuel demand all rise.  The rising price of the oil that is used to produce and transport food supplies is leading to higher food prices.  As our economies develop and more people seek a Western-based diet of meat consumption, the demand for grains rises and increases competition for this resource and its price.  For instance, cows need eight kilograms of grain for every kilo of meat that they produce.  Finally, and most controversially, is the surge in the popularity of biofuels as a mechanism for slowing climate change.  Biofuel use has, however, increased food prices by 35%.  Malnutrition significantly reduces a person’s ability to recover from infectious diseases and respond positively to medical treatments, including that for HIV/AIDS. Increased malnutrition as a result of human-driven climate change will therefore have indirect impacts on health as well.

What do we do now? 1

 

 

 

 

What do we need to do now?

The key is of course to address human driven climate change and not focus on treating it impacts alone.  How to mitigate and adapt to this climate change is a complex process.  However, it certainly requires governments to override their individualistic approaches and instead work towards accountable global strategies.  Nevertheless, specific to health alone, governments and organisations need to build networks that deploy medical care to both prevent and treat the impacts of climate change on human health.

References

Dow, K. and T. Downing (2011) The Atlas of Climate Change – mapping the world’s greatest challenge (3rd ed.), Brighton: Earthscan.

Maslin, M. (2009) A Very Short Introduction to Global Warming, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Photograph Credits

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2011/06/10/world/10iht-drought/10iht-drought-articleLarge.jpg

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/binary/9a44/1375980109-forest-fire.jpg

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/48644000/jpg/_48644916_009933072-1.jpg

http://www.survivopedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/biofuels.jpg

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/files/2012/03/windfarm_1661728c.jpg

http://d1jqu7g1y74ds1.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/earthmap.jpg

 

Climate Crisis: Emergency Actions to Protect Human Health

Ellie Forward3 March 2014

Blog by Nick Watts, Head of Project, UCL-Lancet Commission
Join the conversation: Follow Nick on Twitter

“Above all, be visionary – this Commission is designing integrated solutions to what has been described as the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. These were the parting words of Richard Horton – the editor of The Lancet – to the Commissioners at a recent London meeting.

LancetThe 2014 UCL-Lancet Commission on Climate Change and Health is an ambitious initiative bringing together senior international climate scientists, economists, energy experts, and health professionals to present mitigation and adaptation policies necessary to protect human health from climate change, and promote sustainable development. The Commission is truly interdisciplinary and international, consisting a tripartite collaboration between University College London, Tsinghua University, and the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Within UCL, the Commission is working across the Institute of Global Health, the Energy Institute, the Institute for Sustainable Resources, the Geography Department, and the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy. Presenting its work in February 2015, the commission will ultimately aim to be policy-relevant, taking an academic ‘honest broker’ approach where experts in areas relating to climate change use their knowledge to integrate scientific knowledge more cohesively with policy.

Published in the Lancet – arguably the most influential medical journal in the world – the Commission understands climate change as a ‘health emergency’. Its work is divided in to five working groups, each tackling a particular part of the policy response to this crisis, and tasked with producing a chapter for the final report. Over the next week, a post from each of the working groups should give you a better idea of what they’ve got planned. But in the meantime, here’s a brief summary of what they’re looking at:

1)     WG1 will set the stage by laying out the latest evidence in climate science and the impacts these global environmental changes are having on human wellbeing. The group will attempt to employ innovative methods to demonstrate how global patterns of vulnerability shift with environmental and demographic changes;

2)     In light of the scientific update above, section 2 will examine the most effective solutions to improve resilience in the most vulnerable communities. One area of particular interest being explored is with regards to identifying the limits to adaptation;

3)     Experts in energy and climate change mitigation will explore the emergency technical solutions available, prioritising them according to their cost-effectiveness, time to implementation, and feasibility. In particular, Commissioners in WG3 will explore the ‘epidemiology of energy policy’, looking at what happens when large-scale policy changes are implemented in practice.

4)     The fourth component of the report will discuss a broad range of alternatives to financing the defined technical solutions. They’re looking at a broad range of responses, including international trade, taxation (regressive and progressive), capital and bond markets, and investment incentives and penalties.

5)     The final section will bring together the above policy options, providing insight in to the political mechanisms necessary to trigger a cascade of technical and financial action.

The task ahead of the UCL-Lancet Commission is indeed ambitious, with more than 60 academics and experts from around the world working on it right up until early 2015. The key findings of our work will take some time to come to light, but if the last 12 months are anything to go by, the results of the Commission will most certainly “be visionary”.

Climate Week 2014

Ellie Forward19 February 2014

From 3-9 March 2014, UCL Energy Institute and UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources staff and students will be blogging here daily to celebrate Climate Week 2014.

Topics will include:

  • Climate and health
  • Climate and poverty eradication
  • Climate and water
  • Climate and resources
  • Climate and energy

We will also be publishing a series of blog posts, focussing on themes relating to the newly launched 2014 UCL-Lancet Commission on Climate Change and Health. The commission is an ambitious initiative bringing together senior international climate scientists, economists, energy experts, and health professionals to present mitigation and adaptation policies necessary to protect human health from climate change, and promote sustainable development. The Commission is truly interdisciplinary and international, consisting a tripartite collaboration between University College London, Tsinghua University, and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Topics will include:

  • Climate Science & Health Impacts
  • Resilience & Adaptation
  • Energy & Technical Solutions
  • Finance & Economics
  • Political Mechanisms

Follow us on Twitter for regular updates on new blogs:

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