The Earth’s average temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit during the 20th century. While two degrees may sound like a small amount it is an unprecedented event in our planet’s recent history. To put this into perspective: At the end of the last ice age, which was about 11,550 years ago the average temperatures were only 5 to 9 degrees cooler than today. Scientists have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to the greenhouse gases produced by human activities. Every day, we hear stories of suffering caused by the impact of climate change in communities across the world. According to UN reports 90% of disasters are now classed as weather- and climate-related, costing the world economy 520 billion USD a year while 26 million people are pushed into poverty as a result. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year.
So, the real question now is, can we do something about this? We talk about climate change being the greatest threat to our planet, which it indeed is, but it is also something we can still conquer if we take proper and adaptive climate action. We cannot prevent this because we are already living in the beginnings of a changing climate characterized by intense storms, heatwaves, deadly floods, drier droughts but if we act together, we can stop a climate catastrophe from engulfing our planet and bringing an end to human life as we know it, but this is something we are still taking a step back from. Thus, the biggest threat we are facing right now is not climate change but climate inaction. At the precise point when acceleration is needed, we are slowing down our actions.
But why are we not taking adequate action when it seems like an obvious choice?
There is a lot of skepticism around climate change and people believe that mitigating climate change will cost so many billions that we cannot possibly afford to do it. Well, in reality, it’s the opposite that’s true: the world cannot afford the cost of inaction. Not only is the cost of doing nothing higher than the cost of mitigating climate change but we would gain from it, even economically, leaving all the humanitarian and environmental positives. The International Monetary Fund projects a 16% to 29% loss in global economic output by 2100 if we do nothing to tackle climate change, while the net benefit of climate change mitigation would be $127 trillion to $616 trillion by 2100.
In today’s free-market economy, let’s take a corporate example to deal with this problem, in any business, a big cash outlay is needed at the beginning to secure those future economic benefits. The same is the case with the expenses incurred to attenuate climate change. Negative net income would be the characteristic of many countries and regions in the early stage of fighting climate change due to a large amount of greenhouse gas abatement costs. Due to this reason, many countries refuse to ratchet up climate action and willingly neglect the long-term disastrous climate impact. Not only would not taking steps in the direction to tackle climate change cost us more economically, but it would also exacerbate the already existing unfairness to the vulnerable communities since they are the ones at most risk.
The policymakers and skeptics are only concerned with one side of the balance sheet that displays the huge initial costs of mitigating climate change neglecting the real value of the benefits that come with it, let alone the huge cost savings and economic benefits in the long term due to more efficient vehicles and buildings, and the economic boost of many thousands of good jobs in the green industries that will be the growth story of the 21st century. And that’s just the start.
We all know the cost of doing nothing is far too risky in terms of life and death. So now is the time to act, knowing that through doing something we can save millions of people’s lives, livelihoods, and dignity. According to IRFC by 2050, 200 million people every year could need international humanitarian aid as a result of a punishing combination of climate-related disasters and the socioeconomic impact of climate change. This is near twice the estimated 108 million people who need help today from the international humanitarian system because of floods, storms, droughts, and wildfires. Even by 2030, this number could increase almost 50 percent. With resolute and consistent action, the number of people in need of international humanitarian assistance as a result of climate-related disasters annually could also be as low as 68 million by 2030 and even drop to 10 million by 2050 – a decrease of 90 percent compared to today. According to reports, the price of responding to rising needs as a result of climate change will rise from between 3.5-12 billion US dollars today to 20 billion US dollars per year by 2030.
Therefore, while we cannot prevent storms, cyclones, heatwaves, and other climate and weather-related dangers from happening, we can do something about the impacts they have. Some measures can be introduced to make development more inclusive and to better reduce the risk of and mitigate climate-related disasters. It is the need of the hour to invest in climate adaptation and to build resilience in the communities, countries, and regions at risk. With preparatory and adaptive measures, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance will drop, along with the amount of money needed by international humanitarian organizations. Mitigating climate change by reducing carbon emissions is critical. However, even if we were to cut our emissions to zero tomorrow, the world would continue to warm for decades, and sea levels will rise for many centuries as a result of our emissions to date. Therefore, as well as mitigating climate change, adapting to it is indispensable if we are to continue to thrive in a warming world. If we have any hope for the future then it is climate action and it is now.