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Rising population adds to climate woes

Socio-economic factors play big part in global warming

THREE-QUARTERS of the problems associated with global warming have to do with socio-economic factors like rising population, and only a quarter has to do with the climate itself, according to Andrew Watkinson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK.

‘The population debate has gone off the agenda,’ he said on the sidelines of a conference on climate modelling at the National University of Singapore.

‘Climate change is not the major issue. It is the socio-economic scenarios, the demographics, that are driving major changes. Its a population problem, primarily,’ he said.

Even in the UK, a developed country, demographers once thought the population would stabilise at 60 million, but the latest projections suggest that the number could hit 75 million. ‘That would make meeting the emissions obligations that much more difficult’, said Dr Watkinson.

The issue of growing populations and consumer behaviour could prove even harder for governments to deal with than straightforward climate change, because they are politically contentious, he also said.

Meanwhile, government policy must be flexible enough to accommodate the inherent uncertainty and wide range of climatic predictions.

The error term in climate forecasts can be significant, ‘because there might be something in the model that means the outcome is not as bad, or is worse than anticipated’, he said.

Government policy should be able to respond in either case.

Ideally, policy should not consist of a single solution, but a ‘road map’ or series of measures that give options down the line. For example, policy could allow for further steps to be taken after initial mitigation, if outcomes turn out worse than expected.

But neither the UK nor any other government has yet been ‘realistic’ about the efforts needed to combat global warming, said Dr Watkinson.

The UK has a target of reducing emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. Its climate change bill will get ‘nowhere near’ the target, which requires a 9 per cent drop in emissions every year. Including aviation and shipping, the bill is more in line with a scenario of a probable four-degree rise in global temperatures rather than the two-degree rise that scientists recommend, said Dr Watkinson.

He praised Singapore’s stance on climate change, as expressed by PM Lee Hsien Loong earlier this year, as ‘the most sensible from a leader that I’ve seen’.

The National Environment Agency has commissioned NUS to conduct a two-year study on the likely effects and impact of climate change on Singapore for the next 100 years, according to Rosa Daniel, deputy secretary of the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

The government is also working to reduce flood prone areas on the island to less than 66 hectares by 2011, from 124 ha today.

 

Source: Business Times 18 Dec 07

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