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Convenor's update: November 2012

By Oliver Greenfield GEC · 08th November, 2012
Ilya Ilyukhin 123270
Photo by Ilya Ilyukhin on Unsplash

Is your economy ready for 2015?

Newly re-elected President Obama said in an interview with MTV, that he was "surprised" climate change did not come up in the presidential debates. Then Sandy struck.

Beyond the political posturing, the escalating estimates of damage (costed at $50 billion), and the personal misery inflicted on peoples lives, there is an awkward elephant lurking on the US horizon. Was ‘Frankenstorm Sandy’ created by climate change? The stock scientific disclaimer rolled out to anyone brave enough to ask the question is, “No one single weather event can be attributed to climate change.” This is followed by a set of confusing assertions: more precipitation is caused by climate change; storm surge worse because of rising sea levels due to climate change; size, speed and frequency of hurricanes linked to warming oceans caused by climate change. The answer feels unsatifactory on all levels. We need facts, data points, time series.

The latest science data from the Chair of the IPCC WG1 is that CO2 is 30% greater than any time in the past 800k years, and increasing 100 times faster than ever measured in ice cores. But what does this mean to peoples lives? The insurance industry is uniquely positioned to answer that question.

Two weeks before Sandy, Munich Re published a report titled “Severe Weather in North America.” The report states, “Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America. The study shows a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades with the overall loss burden from weather catastrophes at US$ 1,060bn. Here is data we can all understand. Perhaps this kind of practical information is more powerful than science in shifting the climate change debate in the USA. 

Yale just published a study showing that Texans’ belief in the reality of global warming has increased by 13% over the past two and a half years, from 57% in January 2010 to 70% in September 2012. The Texan population is still divided on the causes of climate change with less than half of them (44%) believing global warming is caused mostly by human activities.

And now we are back to the thorny issue of global climate negotiations. The present US negotiating line is that there should be no new agreement until post-2020. Such a position derails any chance of a global agreement and of staying below 2 degrees (see PwC's latest findings). 

The USA may not be persuaded by arguments for the global good or by science, but they may respond to economic and livelihood impacts captured so clearly in the Munich Re report and the images of New York, the island city, submerged.  They will also be more likely to respond to the risk of slipping down the league table of economic powers – defined by green economy investment and competiveness.

What happened to New York this year, as with 9/11, may prove to be a political watershed moment – the time when the need to combat climate change began to be taken seriously in mainstream American politics.

What does this mean for us at the GEC? The 'green economy' moved up the agenda when Copenhagen climate negotiations failed so traumatically in December 2009. For the 2015 negotiations to succeed each country of the world needs to have done 2 things:

  1. A 'Stern' like report on the economic and social impact of climate change (the cost of inactivity),
  2. A national green economy strategy demonstrating the opportunity, growth and jobs of a low carbon future (the benefits of action). (check out WWF UK's latest findings)

The 2015 climate negotiations represent a watershed moment for the GEC's mission. By then every government needs to be able to answer the question “Is your nation and economy ready to sign-up to a low carbon future?” Our task is to make sure that not only is this process underway, but that the plans are inclusive by building equity and environmental limits into the solutions.

Oliver Greenfield

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