The latest government predictions of the likely impact of climate change are, as the ICE panel on critical infrastructure says this week, “really quite worrying”.
The prospect of temperature rises across the UK of 2°C by 2040 and 6.4°C by 2080 are, in fact, hugely scary. The implications for life as we know it are massive and to be avoided at all cost − literally.
“These projections show us the future we need to avoid,” said environment secretary Hilary Benn. “And the future we need to plan for.”
“The prospect of temperature rises across the UK of 2°C by 2040 and 6.4°C by 2080 are, in fact, hugely scary. The implications for life as we know it are massive and to be avoided at all cost.”
And as we see from this week’s reports by the Environment Agency, coping with the impact of the existing threat from climate change will require a doubling of investment in flood defences. Without this investment, it warns, people will die as homes and critical infrastructure are catastrophically flooded.
Of course, adapting to the kind of future scenarios forecast by the UK Climate Impact Programme (UKCIP) will clearly require much, much more investment.
And while investment in adaptation in crucial, the reality is that we will most likely not be able to afford the infrastructure required to maintain the status quo under such scenarios. Adaptation is only possible to a point. Unless the focus on and investment in climate change mitigation is ramped significantly right now globally, life as we know it will just simply have to change.
In short, more and more people will die. With around six billion people crammed on the planet, adaptation can only get us so far. Life for increasing numbers living in the ever reducing temperate zones will get more challenging.
“Summers becoming warmer could still seem appealing. It won’t be. The worry is that there will be a continued belief that we can build our way out of the problem without having to change. We cannot.”
Yet the worry is that for the general public, the concept of UK summers becoming a little bit warmer could still seem appealing. It won’t be. The worry is that there will be a continued belief that we can build our way out of the long term problem without having to change. We cannot.
As professional engineers we have to get over the message that while adaptation is important, doing nothing to stem to constant rise in greenhouse gas emissions is just not an option. We must put out the message that alongside investment in adaptation, large scale investment in climate change mitigation is vital.
And as Nicholas Stern pointed out so well in his 2005 Treasury report on the economic impact of climate change, a relative small investment today will save having to spend a massive amount tomorrow.
Sadly in the four years since this report it is fair to say that very little has changed in terms of UK or global investment in climate change mitigation. While the UK now has tough carbon reduction targets, there has been no real paradigm shift in behaviour and little sign that we will meet these targets.
December’s Copenhagen summit is therefore an important milestone. Civil engineers must approach this with a positive and credible agenda for change.