SOCIAL NEED rather than combatting the effects of climate change should drive research into sustainable development, academics said last week.
They said that the effects of climate change should be pushed down the agenda to focus more on developing a sustainable lifestyle.
'I think social breakdown will affect us before climate change does - looting when earthquakes occur will have a more profound effect on society than sea level rise, ' said Heriot-Watt University's Professor Paul Jowitt at the ICE presidential conference last week.
Jowitt is leading a presidential commission, 'Engineering without frontiers', to examine how engineers can help achieve the United Nations' millennium development goals. These include eradicating extreme poverty and combating diseases such as HIV.
Cambridge University's professor of engineering and sustainable development Peter Guthrie agreed: 'Although the drive for sustainable development came from recognising climate change taking place, it now transcends that. It is now more about meeting social needs. But sustaining our current social needs is obscene.'
Jowitt supported Guthrie's view by quoting statistics from the charity Water Aid. Jowitt demonstrated that, as a percentage of household income, a family of six in Nigeria pays 102 times more for clean water than a family of four in London.
Jowit also warned that projects aimed at adapting to climate change were considered bad investments by economic experts.
'The Kyoto Protocol calculated that spending £60,600bn on preparing for the effects of climate change would only give a £107,000bn return, ' he said.
In comparison, money spent on dealing with HIV and AIDS promised a more reliable return of 40 times the investment costs.
However he added that access to clean water underlies the main problems of poor health around the world so more infrastructure investment was required.