Supporters

Many supporters of action on climate change agree with sceptics that the climate is influenced by multiple contributing factors, including natural causes. Without adopting a mono-causal point of view, many supporters nonetheless argue that the theory of human influence on the climate is well established. They also believe that many consequences of climate change, although not certain, are documented so well already that it would be irresponsible to wait for action. Hence the main issue for supporters is not whether to do something about climate change, but what to do about the problem.

The debate centres on the effectiveness, cost and ethical appropriateness of various courses of action.59 While some supporters favour command and control mechanisms, such as regulated limits on GHG emissions, others would like to rely on economic instruments, such as for instance carbon taxes and market-based mechanisms such as emission trading. There is much debate on the role of the private sector in problem solving. Some believe that the private sector is crucial for any solution, while others question the motives of private actors. Many supporters agree that civil society should play a role in problem solving as well. And some argue that lasting solutions to environmental problems require more fundamental transformation, including changes in economic structures, the media and education.60

While some pessimists claim that it is already too late to take effective action on climate change, the majority argues that it is not too late to mitigate future damages. Supporters believe that if nothing is done, serious consequences are unavoidable, including rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, disruption of agriculture and impaired health. All of this could lead to major reductions in economic well-being and quality of life.61

To support their call for action, supporters refer to evidence of serious impacts. A report prepared by Innovest for the UNEP shows that banks, insurances and other businesses have already incurred significant losses due to climate change, and that these losses are likely to multiply if global warming is left unchecked. The report notes that global economic damages associated

59 For an interesting debate on ethics, see Michael Sandel's editorial It's Immoral to Buy the Right to Pollute, which was published in the New York Times on 15 December 1997 following the signature of the Kyoto Protocol, including the replies from Robert Stavins, Steven Shavell, Sanford Gains and Eric Maskin published on 17 December 1997.

60 For an analysis of the differing views on climate action and the Kyoto Protocol, see Jacoby et al. 1998.

61 See IPCC 2001c.

with natural catastrophes have approximately doubled every 10 years, reaching almost USD 1 trillion in the course of the past 15 years. Annual weather-related disasters have quadrupled compared to 40 years ago; and insurance payouts have increased by a factor of 11, rising to an average of USD 10 billion annually during the 1990s. If we extrapolate these trends into the future, yearly losses will increase to almost USD 150 billion in the next decade.62 Table 2.1 lists the number of great weather-related disasters and the increase of economic and insured losses in the period from 1950 until 2001.

Figure 2.1 illustrates the steeply increasing cost curve, which is believed to be at least partly related to climate change. The figure depicts the economic and insured losses and some of the projections and risks associated with climate change and their impacts on the ecosystem and human activity. However, care should be taken to correctly estimate the rate and scale of these losses since it may result in either too little attention and significant human costs or too much cost for unneeded preventative measures. Figure 2.2 shows the trend in annual frequency of great natural catastrophes between 1950 and 2004. It enables to understand the type of hazard and estimate the number of people that might suffer consequences. The results can be used to determine options for reducing or eliminating risks.

Based on the numbers as shown in Table 2.2 pessimists among the supporters claim that the reduction of greenhouse gases will not always bring the intended results. For example, there may be little improvement with regard to the decline of forest areas or the number of malaria incidences, which are key areas of concern in relation to anthropogenic warming.63 However, the possibility of reducing GHC emissions not leading to rapid results cannot be used as an argument for doing nothing. The key issue

Table 2.1 Great Weather Disasters, 1950-2001

Year

Number

Economic losses

Insured losses

1950-59

13

41.2

-

1960-69

16

54.1

7.2

1970-79

29

79.4

11.5

1980-89

44

126.1

23.0

1990-99

72

425.4

98.9

Last 10 years: 1992-2001

64

362.0

79.3

Source: Innovest 2002a, 7.

Source: Innovest 2002a, 7.

62 Innovest 2002a, 6.

63 Dorf 2001, 468.

Figure 2.1 Trends in Economic and Insured Losses, 1950-2004 US$ bn

Figure 2.1 Trends in Economic and Insured Losses, 1950-2004 US$ bn

1950 11955 11960 11965 11970 11975 11980 11985 11990 11995 12000

■ Economic losses (2004 values) I Of which insured losses (2004 values) □ Average economic losses per decade

Trend of economic losses Trend of insured losses

Figure 2.2 Trend in Annual Frequency of Great Natural Catastrophes, 1950-2004 Number

Figure 2.2 Trend in Annual Frequency of Great Natural Catastrophes, 1950-2004 Number

1950

1955

1960

1965

1970

1975

1980

11985

1990

1995

1950

1955

1960

1965

1970

1975

1980

11985

1990

1995

| Earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruption I Windstorm

□ Other events (e.g., heat wave/drought, wildfire, winter damage/frost)

Table 2.2 Projected Climate Change Impacts Compared to Other Environmental Problems

Impact/effect

Table 2.2 Projected Climate Change Impacts Compared to Other Environmental Problems

Impact/effect

Baseline (includes impacts of

Impacts of climate

Climate-sensitive

environmental problems other than

change, on top of

sector!indicator

Year

climate change)

the baseline

Agricultural

2060 for baseline.

Must increase 83%, relative to 1990

Net global production would change —2.4%

production

> 2100 for climate change

to +1.1%; but could substantially redistribute production from developing to developed countries

Global forest area

2050

Decrease 25-30 (+) %, relative to 1990

Reduced loss of global forest area

Malaria incidence

2060

500 million

25 to 40 million additional cases

2100

500 million

50 to 80 million additional cases

Sea level rise

2060

Varies

< 25 cm

2100

Varies

< 50 cm

Extreme weather events

2060 or 2100

Not applicable

Unknown whether magnitudes or frequencies of occurrence will increase or decrease

Sources: Dorf 2001, 468, referring to Goklany 1998, 2000 and IPCC 1996.64

Sources: Dorf 2001, 468, referring to Goklany 1998, 2000 and IPCC 1996.64

64 Reprinted from Dorf 2001, 468 with permission from Elsevier Science and Cambridge University Press.

is the uncertainty about the absorption capacity of ecological systems and the threshold at which such systems collapse. Richard Dorf argues that '(...) climate change on top of the other environmental problems may be the straw that breaks the camel's back, particularly with respect to forests, ecosystems, and biodiversity, which suggests that immediate action ought to be taken to curtail GHG emissions'.65

If one compares the arguments of sceptics with those of supporters, one finds little common ground. In what follows, five issues will be analyzed to show how supporters differ from sceptics. Two further issues, the cost of climate change mitigation and the choice of discount rate, are discussed in the next chapter.

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Renewable Energy 101

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable. The usage of renewable energy sources is very important when considering the sustainability of the existing energy usage of the world. While there is currently an abundance of non-renewable energy sources, such as nuclear fuels, these energy sources are depleting. In addition to being a non-renewable supply, the non-renewable energy sources release emissions into the air, which has an adverse effect on the environment.

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