Adapting to the IPCC

The IPCC’s second summary report of the year is out. Working Group II’s report on Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability predicts a world facing food and water shortages and risk of flooding. The environmental lobby is already up in arms because of “government interference” with the conclusions. We could have told them years ago (hang on, we did) that polticizing the science in the way they did when the IPCC was set up would lead to such pressures. In fact, it’s inevitable.

Anyway, on to the substance. If the IPCC is correct and the world is facing exacerbated damages in this way (these problems existed before global warming, after all), then we need to work out our best response. As CEI has argued for years (pace The New Republic), adaptation to build up resiliency in poorer countries is desperately needed. However, because we are so focused on mitigation (trying to stop weather effects in the distant future), money spent on mitigation in developing countries outstrips adaptation spending at a rate of 25 to 1. The IPCC appears to recognize this, calling adaptation essential and mentioning its current “limited basis,” but does not grapple the bull by the horns in discussing, in a world of limited resources, where money is best spent.

If we want to take a positive approach to global warming (rather than running around with our hands in the air yelling “We didn’t listen!”) then we need to focus policy attention much more on adaptation now (and, correspondingly, much less on mitigation). Indur Goklany has pointed out that we can do a great deal now in terms of adaptive management of global warming risks. In fact, we could probably over the next 30 years or so reduce the incidence of water shortage and famine and secure land against sea level rise so that even with larger-than-likely temperature rises, there wouldn’t be the sort of severe impact the IPCC warns against. The Copenhagen Consensus also speaks to this.

In short, if global warming is the problem people claim it is, then we should be doing things now that will help people in the near future and beyond. We’re not, though, and instead, we are focused on the far future and creating vast bureaucracies and cartels that will make banks and utilities rich while raising energy costs for the working man. That suggests strongly that those who are celebrating the IPCC report have got their priorities badly wrong.