International Dimensions of Climate Change

This week a report detailing the risks of overseas impacts of climate change for the UK economy was released as a first step towards a UK Climate Change Risk Assessment. On examining the evidence the Government Office for Science and Foresight Programme team led by Chief Scientific Advisor Professor Sir John Beddington found that climate change overseas will most likely be just as important for the UK as the direct impacts of climate change on the UK.

A key threat resulting from overseas climate change is the risk of international instability resulting from water stress, food shortages and extreme weather events. Climate change is likely to have the greatest effect in developing countries. Pressures on ecosystem services are also likely to be more serious in developing countries due to high rates of land use change and deforestation. If the UK cannot respond to these challenges there is an increased risk of states failing, higher levels of terrorism and an increased probability of war. In the future the UK government can expect increased pressure on the aid budget and allocation to the UN peacekeeping budget

Changes in disease prevalence and intensity could also result from increased temperature, water shortages and extreme weather events such as flooding. This could place extra stresses on the UK health aid budget. Certain infectious diseases may also spread across Northern Europe from Southern Europe and Africa which may present a novel challenge for healthcare in the UK.

The report also details possible adverse impacts of overseas climate change on business. According to the report UK businesses have over £1.2 trillion worth of overseas assets which are not currently properly protected and insured against climate risks. The UK economy is also highly dependent on overseas resources and infrastructure for food production, energy, extraction of raw materials. In addition the UK communications industry is highly reliant on countries with high probability of extreme weather events for communications infrastructure.

An important point stressed throughout the report is that climate change does not act alone, and the combined effects of climate change, ecosystem service degradation and resource scarcity must be considered by policy makers at all stages.

International leadership will be crucial in adapting to and managing these threats. The Government is already showing leadership in reducing and mitigating the impacts of climate change by signing a legally binding commitment to reduce emissions by 50% of 1990 levels by 2025. The government have also shown commitment to reducing biodiversity loss and ecosystem service degradation in the recent Natural Environment White Paper. Detailed monitoring will be needed to ensure the government meets it’s commitments. Close cooperation both internationally and between business and government within the UK will also be vital to success in this area.

Another crucial step for the government is to promote behavioural change in the UK. By raising awareness of climate impacts overseas and the risks this poses to quality of life and security in the UK the government can highlight the need for action.

Although climate change is a long term and uncertain phenomenon there is no doubt that the above challenges will arise in one form or another. Uncertainty only surrounds how severe the challenges will be and how fast they will arise. The new report draws attention to the global effects of climate change impacts on other countries and the need for urgent action to plan for and mitigate future challenges.