The record-breaking weather and severe flooding currently affecting many areas of the UK are part of an escalating trend, a leading economist and expert on climate change has warned.
Writing for the Guardian Lord Stern, the chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, describes the possible consequences of ignoring this pattern.
“Four of the five wettest years recorded in the UK have occurred from the year 2000 onwards. Over that same period, we have also had the seven warmest years”, he says.
“That is not a coincidence. There is an increasing body of evidence that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, in line with what is expected from fundamental physics, as the Met Office pointed out earlier this week.”
Stern points to extreme weather events affecting other parts of the world, such as recent heatwaves in Australia and Argentina and Typhoon Haiyan, which killed at least 6,000 people in the Philippines last year, as further evidence of the trend.
In 2006, Stern wrote an influential review of the economic impacts of climate change. He now says that the dangers are more severe than he then thought, as emissions have increased and scientists had underestimated several factors.
Referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest review of the science, Stern warns that if greenhouse gas emissions are not drastically curbed then global average temperatures could rise by 4C by the end of the century.
This, he says, could lead to even more devastating impacts than flooding and typhoons.
“The shift to such a world could cause mass migrations of hundreds of millions of people away from the worst-affected areas. That would lead to conflict and war, not peace and prosperity,” he adds.
Such comments echo the sentiments recently expressed by Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Speaking to the international strategic community, Figueres said “the range of estimates go anywhere from 25 million to an extra one billion [people] displaced by 2050, if we have runaway climate change.”
Stern goes on to stress the importance of a transition to a low-carbon economy, saying that while “the current pace of progress is not nearly rapid enough, […] history teaches us how quickly industrial transformations can occur through waves of technological development.”
He calls on the UK to set an example in decarbonisation, and says the government should resist lobbying from UKIP and the Daily Mail to take money from foreign aid budgets to spend on the domestic flooding crisis.
He argues, “In fact, the UK should be increasing aid to poor countries to help them develop economically in a climate that is becoming more hostile largely because of past emissions by rich countries.”