Crowd Sourced Mapping Assists Hurricane Responses

Algorithm Assisted Crowd Sourced Mapping

Crowd sourced mapping, that is using many people (who may typically be volunteers) to map areas, has been used before in many disaster situations. Recently there have been developments whereby the information collected by these people is being automatically validated by algorithms. This is a step change in this approach to disaster mapping. The algorithms are helping to speed up the process for a disaster response situation such as the recent hurricanes that affected the Caribbean in autumn 2017. The aim is to generate more reliable and certain data sources.

In September 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria had a devastating impact on several Caribbean islands. In order to support and assist the rescue effort many people have, remotely from all over the world, provided information and goodwill in a number of different ways. Citizen Science can be considered as public participation in scientific research: in this case by assisting with map making. The Citizen Science movement has helped to assist with a coordinated disaster response. These responses and how they are evolving will be considered after reviewing two of the hurricanes that have caused much disruption, destruction and loss of life in the Caribbean region during the autumn.

Hurricane Irma was a very powerful Atlantic storm that has caused widespread destruction across the Caribbean and southern USA. The storm was, at times, a category 5 hurricane with wind speeds up to 295km/h (185mph). It had a path that crossed many Caribbean islands and affected around 1.2 million people. It struck around the 6 September. The islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, The Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Cuba and other islands were all affected before the storm moved towards Florida on the USA mainland. It continued to Georgia and South Carolina where it weakened.

Irma damaged or destroyed more than 90% of structures on Barbuda. The hurricane had top wind speeds that tied with the second-strongest maximum winds of all time for an Atlantic hurricane and had sustained 185 mph maximum wind speed for a long period: 37 hours according to this Colorado State University fact sheet. It was a category 5 hurricane for a lifetime of 3.25 days which was also a tie for that record. A combination of factors led to it being so strong: one of these was the heat of the water, others being mid-level humidity levels and powerful vertical winds generated by strong temperature imbalances. An incredible amount of rainfall was recorded including up to 274mm per hour at the eye of the storm. The storm had closely followed Hurricane Harvey from a few days before and was to be followed by another storm – Hurricane Maria.

When Maria Followed Irma

On the 19 September another Hurricane followed Irma: Hurricane Maria took a slightly different route but also greatly affected the Caribbean. It increased in strength before hitting the island of Dominica and moving towards Guadeloupe and the Virgin Islands (again). It also went on to cause considerable damage in Puerto Rico.

Rescue Global is a charity that aims to save life especially in vulnerable regions. They are a non-government organisation that is working globally to provide Disaster Risk Reduction and Response (DRR&R). It ensured that aerial imagery was acquired in order to assess the hurricane damage. This was then used to determine what the most suitable response would be in the islands that had been affected by the extreme weather. The Planetary Response Network was activated to get satellite data from a number of different sources and make it available to volunteers and other relevant groups.

Examples of mapping projects that have greatly assisted with the aftermath of the hurricanes include Humanitarian Open Street Map and Tomnod. Tomnod is a team of volunteers who identify important objects and places of interest, in this case disaster zones, from satellite images. They use images of the changing planet. The Humanitarian Open Street Map operation specifically generates timely maps following disasters around the world. These maps are used to assist both on the ground and for ongoing disaster support after an event such as a hurricane, flood or earthquake.

The initial analysis is carried out by volunteers looking at newly acquired satellite imagery from the storm damaged area. The volunteers mark destroyed houses, blocked roads and other real world features such as temporary settlements after the storm has passed. This can assist with on the ground support as new maps can be generated very rapidly. The mapping operation allows almost real-time information to be shared through a team of volunteers.

After people have completed their analysis a new stage is enacted with the Machine Learning Research Group at Oxford running the results through machine learning algorithms. “These algorithms can quickly resolve inconsistent responses, bring all the data together and integrate information derived from other crowdsourced mapping sources, such as the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap and Tomnod.” The Conversation (October 18 2017).

Geospatial techniques are used to process the results and provide reliable information for those on the ground. For example these maps will highlight areas that have been affected by flooding, storm surges or maybe areas where many buildings have been affected or destroyed. This information can really assist those on the ground to focus on the worst affected areas. It can also mean that aid is initially directed to areas in most need. Other areas may have differing needs later on, such as healthcare, especially when there is humid stagnant water that can cause disease after a day or more after the event.

The finished maps can be viewed here on the Zooniverse web site which also includes some details of the approach used. Some of the images from Dominica are shown below.
Crowd sourced maps
© Copyright

The work by organisations such as Rescue Global can benefit others who may never even appreciate that their initial mapping activities have assisted the international rescue teams. The power of the crowd to review maps along with intelligent algorithms that help to assess the data captured by volunteers is a tremendous boost to disaster response and ongoing support. The algorithms and computer platforms have recently evolved to greatly assist and support very rapid responses. It is getting to the point where preemptive response planning is becoming a reality. An example of this was seen after Irma and when it was obvious that Maria was about to hit some of the same islands again.

There is much work ongoing in the aftermath of the two hurricanes and hopefully the rapid response of the crowd sourced mapping will have helped with the initial disaster response. The new approach to use algorithms to validate that crowd sourced data will mean an improvement in how it is collected. Continuing disaster responses can still be based upon the information collected and analysed in the earlier days once the hurricane has passed. This may include the reinstatement of power supplies and other essential infrastructure as required.

Posted in ACD, America, Climate Change, Data Quality, flood, Health, Islands, Mapping, OpenStreetMap | Leave a comment

London Restricts Polluting Vehicles & A Catalan Republic?

Restricting Polluting Vehicles

There is a growing trend to prevent vehicles polluting the city air in a number of cities around the world. The controls are becoming stricter as more people are affected by air pollution and there is a greater awareness of the problem of air borne pollutants in general. The pollutants of tiny particulates from diesel vehicles and nitrogen oxides from petrol and diesel vehicles are beginning to be addressed through payment and restrictions in a number of cities.

London is one city where pricing is being used to discourage older and the worst polluting vehicles entering the centre of the city. Here is known as the T-charge where the T refers to toxic emissions from vehicles. New regulations came into force on the 23rd October in order to improve the city’s air quality: the changes affect diesel and petrol vehicles that were registered before 2006 that do not conform to the European standards. In particular the Euro 4/IV European directive is designed to regulate vehicle emissions. Motorised tricycles or quadricycles need to meet the Euro 3 standard (for high-level details of the standards see below).

The European or Euro emission standards define the acceptable limits for exhaust emissions of new vehicles in Europe (European Union and the European Economic Area). London is implementing the charge through its congestion charge zone, which is operational between Monday and Friday over the day from 07:00 to 18:00. This is a precursor to a stricter Ultra-Low Emission Zone in London to be introduced from 2020, although it could be brought forward to 2019. The move is an attempt to improve air quality in London. Further details are on the Yahoo web site article.

The European or Euro standards are designed to improve air quality: they become ever more strict and Euro 1 was first introduced in 1992 and the Euro 6 (or current standard) is progressively introduced from September 2014. The regulations apply to light duty vehicles. The aim of Euro emissions standards is to reduce the levels of harmful exhaust emissions and in particular nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons (HC) and particulate matter (PM). There are further details of the standards on the RAC website.

London and other cities are leading the way to try to improve the air quality. London is using a road pricing mechanism in order to dissuade people from causing the air pollution from fossil fuel burning vehicles.

Catalan Republic?

There has been the declaration of independence by the Catalan republic, an area of north east Spain. The region has become an autonomous region and has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years. It has a population of 7.5 million people and has its own Catalan language, culture and is governed from its own parliament. The region has had its own identity including having a Catalan flag from the 1970s for example. On 1 October a referendum declared independence but this was then determined to be illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court. Around 90% of the voters had backed the independence. These elections had been disrupted by Spanish, as opposed to local Catalan, police who had in some cases used violence against anyone using their vote.

On 27 October Catalans declared independence from Spain in order to have the autonomy that they wanted. Spain and the Government in Madrid quickly responded by imposing direct control. It invoked the Article 155 of the constitution giving it right to dissolve the regional parliament. This was undertaken around an hour after the Catalans declared independence. There are now many unanswered questions as to the future of Catalonia namely around its political destiny. The Spanish deputy prime minister has been brought in to administer the region for now until elections in December. Regional elections have been brought forward and will be held on 21 December.

Other countries have not formally recognised the Catalan republic and the European Union fails to acknowledge it too. There could be implications for the wider Spanish economy as the Catalan region accounts for around 25% of the country’s exports. The region also brings in around 20% of foreign investment to Spain yet only has around 16% of the population. Further summary information can be read about on the BBC web site.

Following on from the Spanish dissolution of the Catalan parliament the deposed president, Carles Puigdemont, left the region for Brussels. The president could face charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds from the Spanish authorities following the declaration of independence. The fact is that the leader of Catalonia has departed and left the people in a state of uncertainty. The main reason appears to be to avoid any charges brought against him by the Spanish Government. See this Guardian news article.

The Catalonia situation is one of irony as many countries will not recognise the republic and will only work with Spain on any matters relating to the region. The European Union (EU) is one organisation that will not recognise an independent Catalan region. It is the EU that has in many ways given regions such as Catalonia more autonomy from their parent nation states. It is this process that has encouraged many independence movements across the continent and, yet, the institution that enabled it is now not willing to support any election that gives full independence. There could be other movements that do not have any further powers despite several years of becoming more autonomous and independent within the union of states. There have been other countries that have formed from similar movements: for example the Estonian Declaration on the Sovereignty of the Estonian SSR (Deklaratsioon Eesti NSV suveräänsusest), was issued on November 16, 1988. This ultimately meant independence of Estonia from the USSR (Russia). See Wikipedia.

The situation in Catalonia is uncertain and changing rapidly. The elections on the 21 December may be the final call on the Catalan Republic assuming they are allowed to be free and fair. Whether this movement in Catalonia w

Posted in Estonia, Europe, Geography, Politics, Pollution | Leave a comment

Plastic Island & Falling Cost Of Offshore Wind Power

Henderson Island – Plastic Oceans

Henderson Island is a remote small elevated coral atoll island in the eastern South Pacific. The island is one of the few atolls in the world whose ecology has been practically untouched by a human presence. The isolated island is notable for the 10 plants and four land birds that are endemic to the island (see this UNESCO link). It is one of the world’s best examples of an elevated coral atoll ecosystem. It is part of the Pitcairn Island Group. It sounds idyllic but the island attracts all sorts of floating waste in the form of plastics that wash up on its shores. The island is located near ocean currents that bring the plastic to this remote UNESCO listed island. Nearby is the South Pacific Gyre which is a massive rotating ocean current.

The South Pacific Gyre is one of five major ocean gyres. The gyres are huge rotating bodies of water. In the South Pacific the South Pacific Gyre has water that is almost static at the centre, which is typical of all gyres. The outer body of water rotates on a vast scale and distance. The gyres transport floating debris on the currents, especially plastics that tend not to break down quickly, and this is the reason why Henderson island is getting so much plastic waste deposited there. See Orma – Ocean News And Facts for further details of gyres. The largest gyre – the North Pacific Gyre – is thought to have a massive build up of ocean debris, an estimated 11 million tons.

In a study of the islands, by Lavers and Bond published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it is noted that the quantity of plastics that accumulate here are the most dense of any island in the world.

In little over half a century plastic products have infiltrated terrestrial and marine environments everywhere on the globe. Plastic poses a hazard to biodiversity but often it is difficult to quantify the volumes of debris that affect environments. In this study the authors document the amount of debris and rate of accumulation on Henderson Island. The density of debris was the highest reported anywhere in the world with up to 671.6 items per square metre (mean ± SD: 239.4 ± 347.3 items/m2) on the surface of the beaches. Around 68% of debris was buried on the beach within the top ten centimetres of the surface. They estimated around 37.7 million debris items that weighed a total of 17.6 tons being present on Henderson. There were up to 26.8 new items/m accumulating daily.

Rarely visited by humans, Henderson Island and other remote islands have become sinks for some of the world’s increasing volume of waste. Whilst humans do not directly litter these once pristine and untouched environments increasing mountains of plastics are now a real problem.

Offshore Wind Power Costs Slide

The costs for offshore wind farms continue to fall and now that rate of fall has accelerated recently. The implication is that the UK’s offshore wind sector could benefit from a £17.5bn investment over the next four years due to the faster than expected cost-cutting. Because of the falling costs subsidies for the technology have been cut by half. The latest Government’s auction for support contracts showed that offshore wind costs have halved in recent years to under £58 for every megawatt-hour of electricity produced. Wind farms have operated at commercial scale in the UK for over a decade in which time the costs have fallen significantly.

This cost is much lower than that predicted by experts. Lower costs means that additional investment funding will now be made available from Government. The auction, where the lowest cost wins, will benefit consumers also. The contracts guarantee offshore wind developers a guaranteed revenue of just £57.50 per megawatt-hour of electricity produced in 2022/23. This is a sharp fall from the £74.75/MWh granted just one year earlier, and less than half the cost of turbines already producing power at around £150/MWh. Nuclear power from a new Hinkley Point C new nuclear power plant will cost £92.50/MWh. Biomass and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) projects have also achieved significant savings to snap up contracts in the auction.

The UK has the largest offshore wind capacity in the world and low carbon businesses have a combined turnover of £43bn, employing 234,000 people. The economic benefits of the wind power have been increasing. Local benefits have increased with more work going to companies that are based within the country. See this Daily Telegraph article for further details.

This is part of a wider trend that sees the benefit from developing renewable energy supplies. On a global scale there is around $300 billion being invested into the new technologies according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. There is also a relevant general shift to increasing micro-generation, even though this article is particularly about the larger corporate wind farms. As prices fall then individuals and small scale generation schemes are likely to become even more popular.

Posted in Earth Science, Energy, Energy efficiency, Islands, Megatrends, Pollution, Tidal Power, Zero | Leave a comment

First Arctic Commercial Shipping & UK Rail Electrification U-Turn

First Tanker Sails Over The Arctic Ocean

A report in this BBC article highlights the first commercial ship having crossed the Arctic from Norway to South Korea transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG). This ship – the Christophe de Margerie – is a 300-metre-long ship owned by Sovcomflot which has a re-enforced hull and has been designed as an ice breaking ship. It took 6 and a half days to cross the Arctic Ocean and was travelling through ice that was up to one metre thick in places.

The Arctic has been thinning recently and the maximum sea ice extent has fallen dramatically in the last decade. Whilst it is technically possible to navigate across the Arctic Ocean there are high risks and the environmental cost could be huge. Pollution in the form of soot from shipping could accelerate ice melt in this vulnerable area.

Railway Electrification Plans Scrapped

On the 20th July the UK Government scrapped plans to modernise and electrify many kilometres of the UK railway network. Plans had been made to electrify many routes which included the railway lines to Swansea from Cardiff the Midland Mainline routes from Bedford to Nottingham and Sheffield, as well as between Windermere and Oxenholme. Other schemes such as the TransPennine route from Leeds to Manchester have been put back and look very uncertain (at least over the next few years). Even the new East – West route that is eventually going to link Oxford to Cambridge is likely to open without electric trains: the line is due to open in the 2020s according to the Department for Transport. The policy reverses ambitious plans announced several years ago to improve the national transport network. See this Electic World? article which was published several years ago highlighting the proposed electrification plans.

The decision by the Government has gone back on the ambitious plans for more sustainable and efficient transport that would have boosted economic growth and reduced pollution emissions from the railway network. These plans were announced several years ago and much investment has been made on preparations and ground works. The Government argue that new bi-mode (electric and diesel) trains on the Great Western (to Swansea) and Midland Mainline would benefit by running on electrified and non-electrified sections of railway track. Whilst bi-mode trains can make sense for limited running on non-electric railways before using electric power over core electric network. The fact is that these trains cost far more than pure electric trains should also be considered.

Part of the reason for the change in policy has been the excessive cost over run for the work to electrify the Great Western line to Cardiff, Bristol and (as originally planned) the route on to Swansea. The route has proven more expensive to upgrade the infrastructure whilst continuing to run services. Working with much infrastructure that was originally constructed over 160 years ago also has been expensive. Costs rose from the original budget of £874 million in 2013 to £2.8 billion. A totally unacceptable increase. Part of the reason for the increase is the lack of expertise in this sort of infrastructure upgrades: new recruits have been employed to implement the changes to infrastructure and many previously employed specialists have retired or left the industry.

The Government should make the railway track authority pay for the schemes from its own reserves and actually get it to project manage these strategically important projects in a much better manner. Should the money run out then the projects ought to be cut back until the money becomes available. The Government has operated a stop-start policy that does not help develop more reliable and sustainable infrastructure that needs to be fit for the twenty fist century.

Many city authorities have been dismayed by the decisions made. These include Oxford, Bristol (where the plans have been deferred), Nottingham and notably the northern cities that need better infrastructure investment to support growth. Politically the situation was made worse by the announcement of many millions of pounds of investment into London’s CrossRail 2 proposal that will cross from north east to south west London. The northern councils have called for a fair share of infrastructure funding and the timing for cancelling projects outside of London perhaps were badly timed.

Further talks now are proposing a HS3 (high speed third railway link) that would build on from the high speed lines of HS1 (from London to Birmingham) and HS2 (links to Manchester and the north east). The HS3 line would link Liverpool with Hull across the Pennines. The Government is perhaps trying to ignore these proposals according to the BBC News article. The Manchester mayor openly criticised the plans to scale back railway modernisation in the north of the country and highlighted the lack of transport progress in the north (see this BBC article).

These decisions reflect the lack of joined up policies in the UK: electrification of the railway network is one way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from trains and the electric systems are more efficient and less polluting than diesel powered trains. There is a need to get systems in place that make electrification a viable and affordable option: huge cost over runs have not helped the situation.

Posted in Arctic, Energy, Politics, Pollution, railways, Sustainable Transport, Transport | Leave a comment


Antarctic Iceberg: A68

A new iceberg, named A68, in Antarctica has broken away from the Larsen C ice shelf. There is nothing really unusual about this except this iceberg is a gigantic iceberg that has formed as a result of a rapid rift that has developed in the Larsen C ice shelf. Larsen C is a floating platform of glacial ice on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula and is the fourth largest ice shelf in Antarctica. The size of the ice berg is immense: it is about 5,800 square kilometre (km) of ice that has broken free and is drifting into the Weddell Sea. The berg has around 1,155 cubic kilometres of ice within the block. In early July the iceberg, which is being monitored by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite, the rift or crack was around 200 km long. The distance between the end of the fissure and the ocean was only around 5 kilometres. This was to indicate an imminent shift and break away of the ice sheet. By 10-12 July 2017 the iceberg had broken away from the ice sheet according to NASA. The Larsen C ice shelf has lost around 10% of its size since the iceberg broke away. This crack had initially appeared in 2014.

The breakup of the ice shelf was first reported by the UK Antarctic research project (Project Midas) team. This team monitored the situation on Larsen C and will continue to monitor changes on the ice shelf. Initial monitoring, which is in the very early stages, suggests a new rift may continue in a northerly direction. The research also notes several smaller ice bergs having formed behind iceberg A68.

The iceberg is being monitored by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite (see this link reviewing the situation as of 5 July). When it moves, by ocean currents, the iceberg has an impact the local area by moving sediment on the sea bed. The iceberg is also likely to last many years before it eventually melts. In that time it could become a risk to nearby shipping. Whether the iceberg breaks up into smaller icebergs remains to be seen. Research has shown historical pathways that icebergs tend to follow and this track information is helping to show where A68 may be heading. There is a great image illustrating the historical tracks of icebergs. See below Iceberg Tracks - ESA
© Scatterometer Climate Record Pathfinder.

The Larsen ice shelf is divided up into a number of segments (Larsen A – Larsen G). The Larsen C segment is the largest segment of the vast ice shelf which is the fourth largest in Antarctica. What will happen next to the Larsen C ice shelf remains unclear: in 1995 the Larsen A Ice Shelf collapsed following initial ice shelf disintegration. Larsen B Ice Shelf followed a similar pattern by collapsing in 2002 and is likely to have totally disintegrated by 2020. If glaciers, which were once protected by the ice shelf, can now advance into the sea and melt then there could be global implications for raising sea levels.

The A68 iceberg provides evidence and details about how rapidly the environment is changing. This change may have a global impact on sea levels if the ice sheets that were being held back start to flow into the Weddell Sea. The ESA and NASA have much technology to monitor remote changes and record progress almost as it happens. The Larsen B and A ice shelf segments have also shown that large scale ice shelf collapse is possible in relatively short time frames that are expressed in months. The future of how Larsen C will develop, most likely rapidly, over the coming months remains to be seen. It is especially important to review this change in light of the forthcoming Antarctic summer season later this year and into 2018. Whether the summer leads to warmer waters affecting the rest of the ice shelf remains to be seen. Project Midas will continue to monitor the situation.

Posted in Climate Change, Earth Science, Islands | Leave a comment

Revisiting The Stern Review – Part 2

Revisiting The Stern Review (Part 2)

Last month’s blog post presented part 1 of an overview of the Stern Review which was originally published back in 2006. This month sees the conclusion of the synthesis of the review. The Stern Review is an analysis of the impact of climate change on the world economy. The contents have six parts and this post considers parts 4-6. Parts 1-3 were reviewed in Revisiting The Stern Review – Part 1

As a reminder the “The Economics of Climate Change. The Stern Review”, a 692 book, contains the following parts. The ones in bold are considered in this post.

  1. Part 1: Climate Change: Our Approach
  2. Part 2: Impacts of Climate Change on Growth and Development
  3. Part 3: The Economics Of Stabilisation
  4. Part 4: Policy Responses For Stabilisation
  5. Part 5: Policy Responses For Adaptation
  6. Part 6: International Collective Action

Part four, Policy Responses for Stabilisation, considers the policy responses for mitigation including the pricing of the externalities that cause climate change – mainly carbon pricing. A price should be added by trading, regulation, taxes or regulation. This will switch trade to consider low carbon alternatives to high carbon goods. The policy response needs to be widely distributed and on a number of levels: namely global, regional and local. A core mitigation strategy is to price the greenhouse gases to reflect the damage they cause.

The lack of a creditable policy could undermine the pricing of carbon pricing. There should be well defined rules to support deep and liquid markets for emissions trading. Incentives over any given sector will be important. Characteristics of different sectors will reflect the design and choice of policy tools.

In conjunction with policies there should be a rapid acceleration in technological innovation with more research and development (R&D) and technological diffusion. Power generation, transport and energy use sectors could benefit greatly from the improvements in technology. There is an argument to support R&D and early stages of commercial product development perhaps. Some sectors will need more support – transport and energy as examples. Low-emission technology options should be brought to commercial viability. There is a strong possibility that some technological ideas will fail and there may be gains to be made from the learning.

Market imperfections will still exist, particularly for energy efficiency. Regulation, information and financing will each have a role to play. Also important is education about the nature and consequences of climate change and its solutions. Thinking about the context of housing, transport and food consumption can shape behaviour and preferences. Governments can demonstrate leadership in these areas.

Part five is entitled “The Policy Responses for Adaptation”. This part of the report highlights the understanding of the economics of adaptation. It notes that adaptation will be crucial to deal with the unavoidable impacts of climate change to which the world has already committed from previous emissions of greenhouse gases. Adaptation can mute the impacts of climate change but will not solve the problem and there are limits to what adaptation can achieve. There are limits to what adaptation can achieve. Without mitigating climate change the costs of adaptation will rapidly increase. Adaptation provides local benefits realised without long-term lags that mitigation will need. Adaptation is complex and there are constraints to be overcome. Governments have a role to play to make adaptation happen. There are gross benefits of adaptation.

Adaptation will be required in the developed world to reduce the cost of disruption caused by extremes of weather associated with climate change. The cost of making infrastructure more resilient to climate change will rise as the temperature increases. Markets and governments that respond to climate information will simulate adaptation. As an example schemes such as risk based insurance that considers climate risk will encourage better risk management. Governments have a role in provision of high-quality climate information and land use planning and performance standards. The government can apply policies for climate sensitive public goods such as natural resource and coastal protection for example. A financial safety net may be required for the poorest members of society.

In the developing world adaptation will be essential as the poorest countries will be especially hard hit by climate change. Development is a key to adaptation and will enable an investment in health care, promote economic growth, enhance resilience to disasters and improve disaster management. Focused development policies can reduce the poverty and development constraints. Adaptation should be integrated into development policy and planning at all levels. It is difficult to predict the costs but they are likely to be in the tens of billions of dollars range. Without mitigation action, the adaptation and impacts will be much larger: over the next few decades adaptation will be needed along with the ongoing mitigation measures. Globally the richer countries may have to support the developing countries.

The final section, Part 6 – International Collective Action, considers building and sustaining international collective action on climate change and the challenges of the action. It considers mitigation and adaptation which are not independent from each other. It notes that the scale of international co-operation on mitigation will determine the scale of action for adaptation.

Climate change mitigation should be considered as a provision of a global public good. Multi-lateral frameworks such as the Kyoto Protocol and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) provide a foundation for further co-operation. Other partnerships such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) facilitate international action. Understanding of domestic policy goals supports further action and supports further beneficial initiatives such as those in California, China and the EU. Stronger and more coordinated action is needed to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Insights from game theory help to inform the design of frameworks for international collaborative action. International commitments tend to work best when there is a notion of responsible behaviour. Public awareness and support is crucial for encouraging and sustaining co-operation at the international level.

Creating a global price for carbon – a shared understanding of long-term goals to support large reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are important. It is argued that a broadly similar price of carbon would be necessary to keep down overall costs of making the reductions. It is argued that there is an urgent challenge to create a transparent and comparable cost of carbon. It needs to be an equitable distribution of effort across developed and developing countries. Historically it would make sense for developed countries to take responsibility for emissions reductions of at least 60% from 1990 levels by 2050. The Kyoto Protocol created valuable institutions to underpin emissions trading and there are possibilities to learn and improve on the approach. The private sector trading schemes are at the heart of flows of carbon finance: these can be expanded through international co-operation and new institutional arrangements. Carbon pricing should extend to international aviation and shipping.

Opportunities exist in the developing countries in particular to fulfil demand for energy and transport with low carbon solutions. There is a substantial opportunity to support the transition to a low-carbon global economy. Technology transfer to developing countries can be supported through private sector companies. Energy price and taxation reform play a role in enabling a shift to allow investments in low carbon technologies. It is argued that carbon pricing is essential to influencing low-carbon investment decisions. An incremental cost of low carbon investment in developing countries is likely to be at least $20-30 billion a year. There is a need to ensure that carbon finance continues after 2012. The reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers for low carbon goods and services are going to assist the diffusion of low-carbon technologies.

The private sector should be a driver for innovation and diffusion of technologies. Technology co-operation enables risk and reward sharing and enables co-ordinated priorities in this area. There are many forms of research and development including knowledge sharing and co-ordination of priorities. The scale of new market growth can benefit cost reductions for new technologies. An example of this is the growth and cost reduction of solar panel production for example. Supporting development would be consistency in regulations and product standards. This can benefit energy efficiency for example. Typically international trade will benefit as well.

Reversing emissions from land-use change can be a highly cost effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This may include the creation of new forests, and enhancing the potential to store carbon in soils etc. Policies on deforestation should be shaped locally at the national level but supported through strong international community input. Rights of locals to forestry land is key for effective forest management. Preserving national forests is very important.

International support for developing countries’ adaptation efforts needs to be accelerated. Poorer developing countries are most likely to be hardest hit by climate change despite not having contributed significantly to the cause of the issue. The international community should support them in adapting to climate change. The international community can support adaptation through investing in global public goods including improved monitoring and prediction of climate change, development of new (perhaps drought resistant) crops, methods to combat land degradation and better modelling of impacts. Developed country commitments need to be honoured to support the developing countries. Strong and early mitigation has a role to play.


Overall the Stern Review concludes that the next few years will be critical in preventing the possibility of very high temperature increases. It notes that action is required now (in 2006) in order to stabilise the atmosphere in the range of 450-550 parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide equivalent. Success will be dependent on continuity of the process of building carbon markets, international co-operation and the reduction of deforestation.

The strong and early mitigation discussed did not really taken place; it took a further nine years until the 2015 Paris agreement that means 176 countries working towards the common goal. There is a steady growth in mitigation through renewable energy investment across the world. The commitment needed to combat climate change is, however, now much more urgent than that eleven years ago. There have been some progress in this direction with economic growth beginning to become decoupled from carbon emissions.

Posted in ACD, Agriculture, Carbon Dioxide, Climate Change, Earth Science, Economic Crisis, Energy, Europe, Geography, Politics, Resources, Technology, Transport | Leave a comment

Revisiting The Stern Review – Part 1

Revisiting The Stern Review (Part 1)

This month sees part 1 of a review of the first three parts of the six part Stern Review. The review looked at the economics of climate change. The blog post will be concluded in part 2 next month which considers parts 3 to 6.

Back in 2006 Nicholas Stern, a UK Government advisor and former chief economist to the World Bank, published an analysis of the impact of climate change on the world economy. The seminal work highlighted the implications of climate change on economics and the associated policy implications.

It is now 11 years on from the publishing of “The Economics of Climate Change. The Stern Review” and the messages are even more relevant today as they were in 2006. In summary, the 692 page book considers all aspects of climate change and its potential impacts on the economy. It considered impacts on rich and poor economies, the economics of emissions reductions, components of policy on mitigation and adaptation as well as how international sustained collective action has its own challenges.

Whilst it is hard to summarise all of the book in a limited number of words, there are a number of points and considerations that should be highlighted. Here a synthesis will recall the key messages and benefits of The Stern Review in highlighting the need for action that was urgent in 2006 but is now even more urgent.

A global policy on climate change would have many benefits as societies typically dislike bearing risks or having poor people hit the hardest. There would also be a reduction in the “discount” on future generation’s welfare purely as the live later. Science and economics should be used to inform policies to slow and stop human-induced climate change.

The contents include the following parts, the first three are considered in this blog post:

  1. Part 1: Climate Change: Our Approach
  2. Part 2: Impacts of Climate Change on Growth and Development
  3. Part 3: The Economics Of Stabilisation
  4. Part 4: Policy Responses For Stabilisation
  5. Part 5: Policy Responses For Adaptation
  6. Part 6: International Collective Action

Parts 4 to 6 will be considered in a future blog post (Revisiting The Stern Review – Part 2).

In part one the scale of the environmental challenge is highlighted including the amplification of global warming (through positive feedback events) creating potentially greater risks of even higher climate change temperatures. The water cycles would intensify with more extreme droughts and floods. It is likely to reinforce existing patterns of water scarcity and abundance. Should the Greenland or West Antarctic ice shelves begin to melt then there would be an eventual rise in the global sea levels of 5-12 metres over several centuries. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2001 report noted that most of the warming observed over the 50 years to 2001 was attributable to human activities. The conclusion was based upon much significant research and much debate.

The economics of climate change are resulting from an externality (here a cost that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost) that is associated with greenhouse gas emissions. The externality is global, long-term and persistent. There are many uncertainties and risks whilst the economic impacts are pervasive. Climate change will interact with additional market failures and other economic dynamics that will lead to complex policy issues.

Part two covers how climate change will impact people’s lives, the environment and prospects for growth and development. The three aspects are important in the understanding how climate change will affect the collective human future on Earth. Global growth is likely to be affected adversely as the temperature increases. In mathematical terms the global damage function is convex;as an example if the temperature rises above 2-3 degrees Celsius the risk of damage and costs increase more steeply than if it were to rise 1-2 degress. The costs are associated with the areas of mortality, ecosystems and income. People are likely to worst affected in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia as temperature rises affect access to water, food, health and use of the land and the environment. A two degrees rise in temperature may have the potential to:

  • reduce water availability by 20-30% in some vulnerable regions (e.g. The Mediterranean and South Africa).
  • reduce crop yields in tropical regions (e.g. by 5-10% in Africa)
  • expose more people to diseases like malaria (40-60 million more people in Africa)
  • affect up to 10 million people with coastal flooding
  • have significant impacts on species extinction
  • potentially begin an irreversible melt of the Greenland Ice Sheet beginning an eventual rise in sea levels that could be up to 7 metres globally

Should temperatures rise more so then there will be bigger impacts. A five degree impact is likely to affect some major global cities (e.g. New York, London and Tokyo) with consequent challenges on populations and economies.

Welfare costs of business as usual (BAU) climate change are very high and the climate change impact is likely to reduce per-capita consumption by a minimum of 5%. Modelled scenarios show, taking into account regional costs, feedback loops and weighting for value judgements that the costs may be a reduction of 20% in per capita consumption now and forever.

Part three considers the economic challenges of stabilising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations will need “deep emission” cuts of at least 25% by 2050. Ultimately it will need to be to less than one fifth of today’s levels. Greenhouse gas emissions have been driven by economic growth and future emissions are likely to come from those developing countries.

The relationship between economic growth and development and carbon dioxide growth is not immutable. Examples, often from richer countries, have seen reduced responsiveness of emissions to income growth. Often there are strong and deliberate policy choices that help with the decarbonisation process. Greenhouse gas emissions have these main sources (along with percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions):

  1. Power generation and heat (25%)
  2. Land use changes – especially deforestation (18%)
  3. Agriculture including livestock and fertilizer usage which account for 2/3 of the 14%
  4. Transport (14%) – three quarters are from road transport, 1/8 from aviation
  5. Industry represents another 14%
  6. Buildings – both commercial and residential (8%)

See this useful World Resource Institute infographic which illustrates the data from the year 2005.

The cost of mitigating climate change will not be felt in a uniform manner across the world: different countries and sectors will be affected differently. If some countries are faster to respond to implement carbon reduction policies then industries could re-locate where such policies are not in place. International sectoral agreements for greenhouse gas intensive industries could ensure that competitiveness impacts for individual countries would be kept to a minimum.

There could be wider benefits from climate policies including opportunities for services and industries. Markets for low carbon energy products are likely to do very well and financial markets can benefit from financing clean energy and energy efficiency measures. Policies on climate change may benefit energy security and enhanced environmental protection.

“On the basis of current scientific understanding, it is no longer possible to prevent all risk of dangerous climate change” Stern 2006 (page 333). Estimates of costs associated with climate change or anthropogenic climatic disruption (ACD) rise exponentially with each one degree Celsius rise in global temperature. The mean expected costs, which are based upon stochastic damage function models, rise rapidly as shown below. The costs are estimates of climate change costs. The metric estimates costs in a theoretical world without climate change against a gross world product for a given increase in global mean temperature. As an example, should global temperatures rise by 1 degree from 2 Celsius to 3 Celsius then the mean damage estimate rises from 0.6% to 1.4% of gross world production. There figures are based upon a distribution curve.

Temperature Rise (Degrees) Mean Expected Cost 5th Percentile 95th Percentile
2C 0.6% 0.2% 4.0%
3C 1.4% 0.3% 9.1%
4C 2.6% 0.4% 15.5%
5C 4.5% 0.6% 23.3%
Source: Hope (2003) reproduced in Stern (2006).
If the lower 5th percentile of the distribution is examined and still shows a leap between 4C and 5C, whereas the 95th percentile represents more extreme damages and these can be viewed as a worst case scenario. At 5 degrees Celsius the cost is almost a quarter of gross world product: in other words very damaging to the global economy. The costs are also unbalanced as they fall disproportionately on low latitude, low income countries although there are likely to be significant costs in the high-latitudes in addition.

In the second part of this synthesis the rest of the report will be considered. It will cover parts 4 to 6 of The Stern Review.

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