Climate Change-Time For a New Approach
    Category: Column By : David Parry Read : 874 Date : Monday, June 09, 2014 - 08:00:48

    Part two of a two-part series. The first part appeared in last month’s issue.

    Alternatives to Kyoto

    It’s time to forget about making a new Kyoto and look at the problem from another perspective, maybe one that is more practical and, hopefully, effective. Using technology, humans are particularly good at adapting to change, including rapid environmental change. On the assumption that the world is slowly heating up based on the evidence provided by the IPCC and the fact that the Earth is in an inter-glacial warm period, mankind clearly has to adapt to a warming world and try to mitigate its effects.

    As for a global response, no meaningful treaty on significantly cutting carbon emissions will be reached by the U.N. in the next two decades or more. At this juncture, it is worthwhile remembering that the furor surrounding anthropogenic global warming is intricately and irrevocably linked to the more general debate on man’s largely unsustainable use of the earth’s resources. This use has been going on for centuries but has become exponential in the last century as the world’s population approaches eight billion. Foremost among these resources is soil and fresh water—and the conservation and sustainable use of both must be among the priorities, be it global, national or local, to adapt to the conditions of a warming world since soil and water provide the very foundations of life.

    Global averages and regional climates

    In a warming world it is the impact on life that is of paramount importance to the inhabitants of the Earth’s multitude of countries and regions. Climate change data are reported on a global scale and deal with average conditions, in other words the sum of global temperatures and the like over the whole world divided by the number of observations. But such statistics are of little or no value to countries and regions that have specific ranges of temperature, rainfall, evaporation, sunshine, wind and other parameters that constitute weather and its longer-term partner, climate.

    The physics and chemistry of the atmosphere and its interaction with the solar heated land and ocean surfaces creates a myriad of local weather events (meteorology) which when averaged over a 30-year period provide the basis for defining regional weather patterns which are referred to as climates. The classification of different climates is one of the pillars of the science of climatology and the most frequently used climate classification system is that of Wladimir Köppen that was devised in 1900, and updated by Rudolf Geiger in 1961 and most recently updated in 2006 by the Climate Research unit (CRU) at East Anglia university and the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre (GPCC) at the German Weather Service. They used temperature and rainfall data sets for a 50-year period 1951 to 2000.

    In the latest update, 31 different climate classes are recognized. The predicted rise in the average global temperatures will have both positive and negative impacts within each of the 31 climatic zones or climates recognized by two of the prime references and data sources for the IPCC Assessments. Even within a climate zone, the impact of local influences such as mountains, lakes, proximity to the coast and, in the case of Indonesia, the vast number of small islands, will modify any general regional climate changes. The world’s top 32 climate models (the so-called CMIP5 or Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project Phase 5) predict that by the end of this century certain parts of the world will be both warmer and wetter, while others will be warmer and drier, with Southeast Asia in the former category.

    Local climate change mitigation and adaption

    Recognition of the imperative need to deal with climate change at a local rather than a global level is a prerequisite for counteracting the current obsession with reducing the world’s collective carbon emissions through  U.N. mandated legislation. Countries and their regional areas need to examine in detail the changes in local climate that have occurred over the past 30 years and beyond. They also need to look at the future direction and degree of those changes, and how that is likely to impact the use and management of their natural resources. This is a multi-disciplinary task that will have to take many things into account:

    1. Watershed management and, where necessary, rehabilitation.

    2. Soil and water conservation.

    3. Reforestation.

    4. Agricultural innovation including improved hybrid high-yielding seeds, the development of drought-resistant and fungal-resistant grain and legume crops.

    5. The provision of affordable crop insurance for emerging world farmers

    6. The expansion of mixed multiple crop farming systems for smallholders.

    7. The development of more ecologically balanced large-scale plantation systems.

    8. Better wetland and coastal management and conservation.

    9. The avoidance of deep peat (over two meters) for agricultural development

    10. Pollution reduction and control in the atmosphere, water and land; the reduction, recycling and reuse of all solid waste materials both organic and inorganic.

    11. Flood protection.

    12. Dustainable spatial planning and the potential for the development of proven renewable power sources in the region such as hydro, wind, solar and geothermal power.

    13. Developing through research, the immense potential of wave and tidal power.

    None of these strategies is new; they have been implemented piecemeal worldwide for decades but never consistently or comprehensively in an integrated manner. The obsession with crafting a global agreement on carbon reduction has focused the attention of governments, from national to local, on climate per se rather than how to combat the worst impacts of climate changes and maximizing their benefits.

    The years of navel gazing on climate change must now end. The billions already spent by the U.N. and governments on chasing the chimera of a post-Kyoto agreement are a sunk cost—the majority of future spending should be redirected towards targeted climate mitigation and adaption by all governments but especially at the local level.