Category Archives: Climate Change

Charts du Jour, 16 March 2015: The Direct Impact of Natural Disasters

If you have a taste for doomer porn, then Desdemona Despair is the ‘go to’ site for you. Looking at the succession of despoiled ecosystems and ravished environments, it is hard not to get depressed. Nonetheless, while our natural assets are being fed through the meat grinder, the numbers show that our bodies are yet to meet a similar fate.

In a fascinating study led by Ilan Noy, a new index is proposed that “converts all damage indicators, including mortality, morbidity, and other impacts on human lives (e.g. displacement) – as well as damage to infrastructure and housing – into an aggregate measure of human lifeyears lost.”

In their approach, they “calculate the total years lost as the sum of years lost due to death, injury/affected, and financial damage.”

Adopting this methodology, the following chart is produced (click for larger image):

Total Life Years Lost by Regions jpeg

Critically, the impact of climate change, or environmental destruction in general, is yet to be seen.

We find no trend in the calculated index, and additionally we observe that most of disaster impacts are experienced in Asia (East and South). This dominance is likely due both to the region’s high degree of exposure to a multitude of extreme events (especially wide-scale flooding) and to the high population density in exposed areas (the coasts along the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the major river systems).

Before I am accused of sounding too much like my doppelgänger The Rational Optimist, I should emphasise that this is a human-centric metric. Species extinction doesn’t show up. Just as important, the system may tip. At present, the United States can absorb a Hurricane Katrina with ease (not withstanding the devastation such an event causes at a personal level). But what happens when you throw two or three Katrinas at the system in quick succession.

Even worse, what happens when extreme weather events graduate from being acute events to those that are chronic. An economy is composed of flows (GDP) and stocks (wealth). Some wealth destruction actually stimulates GDP. But when wealth destruction become a quotidian event, flow (GDP) won’t be able to cope. We are not at such a state of affairs as yet. I am not confident that we never will reach such a state.


Charts du Jour, 13 March 2015: Two Cheers for Emissions Slowdown

The International Energy Agency (IEA) announced today that CO2 emissions in 2014 were flat year on year at 32.3 billion tonnes. This is undoubtedly good news–particularly if it marks the start of a trend.

The chart below is from an article from the FT here (free registration for access). Note, the three previous occasions when emissions flatlined or fell were all associated with recessions or economic crises (click for larger image).

Global GDP and Emissions jpeg

The IEA also points out that global GDP growth in 2014 was around 3%, so the better emission performance was the result of lower GDP-to-energy intensity and reduced energy-to-carbon emissions intensity (the so called Kaya Identify, which maps GDP to emissions, can be found in my post here). Continue reading

Charts du Jour, 11 March 2015: EU Emissions and Renewable Targets

The ‘Chart of the Day’ tag was supposed to be accompanied by one chart and a short accompanying commentary. In reality, I have hardly ever managed to restrict myself to one chart. Oh well, such is life. Facing up to this reality, I will rename these posts ‘Charts du Jour’, starting off with the EU’s emissions and renewable targets.

I’ve been meaning to blog about the renewable road maps of various European countries for a long time. This is a big topic and draws a lot of uninformed comment in the media. For example, is Germany’s ‘Energiewende’ a disaster or a roaring success? Pick up a few newspapers and you see this question argued passionately both ways.

But to start with, let’s set the scene by focussing on the European Union level legislation that sits above all national policies. The centre piece of this is European Council‘s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% by 2050 compared to 1990. This was reconfirmed in February 2011 as Europe’s contribution to keeping climate change below 2 degrees Celsius as agreed upon at the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks.

To meet this commitment, the European Commission has draw up “a roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy by 2050″. You can find the document here. And within this document is this chart (click for larger image):

EU GHG Emission Reductions jpeg

The EU has also passed legislation establishing climate and energy targets for 2020. These are known as the “20-20-20″ targets and are as follows: Continue reading

Chart of the Day, 10 March 2015: The Stability of Carbon Sinks and Sources

About time we revisited the Big Number which sits on the right side of my blog: the atmospheric concentration of CO2. I dub this “the most important risk indicator in the world” since it will have a greater impact on humanity than anything else I can think of (barring the earth getting hit by a stray astroid or such).

The monthly average is back over 400 parts per million (ppm) as of February. As a reminder, the cyclicality is a result of the northern hemisphere (which accounts for 65% of global land mass) plant growth and decay cycle. Source for the two charts below: NOAA (click for larger images).

Recently Monthly Mean CO2 jpeg

The annual average year-on-year continues to grind up despite the fact that the first United Nations Climate Conference of Parties (COP) took place back in 1995.

Annual Mean Growth Rate of CO2 jpeg

COP 21 will take place in Paris this December, yet the above chart demonstrates that little progress has been made in mitigating carbon emissions.

In a blog post I wrote three years ago called “A Fraction for Your Thoughts” I highlighted a hidden risk contained in the above chart: the stability of the carbon sink and source relationship. As you can see from the chart below taken from the Global Carbon Budget 2014 (click for larger image), only a portion of emissions remain in the atmosphere. Continue reading

How Well Does the Climate Change Performance Index Perform?

In previous posts (here and here), I was rather rude about the World Economic Forum (WEF)‘s Global Competitiveness Index (GCI). To me, the method of compilation of the index appears dishonest. Most people understand ‘competitiveness’ to relate to some kind of competition. Yet the WEF defines competitiveness to mean prosperity, measured by GDP head. The word ‘competitiveness’ is used as just a hook.

Further, no evidence is given to suggest that maximising one’s GCI scores would later lead to higher prosperity. In short, we are implicitly encouraged to pursue WEF‘s political goals (basically neoliberalism), with the completely unsubstantiated promise that they will make us prosper.

This criticism notwithstanding, economic indexes have their uses if they are transparent and honest. The big daddy of them all is the United Nations Development Programme‘s Human Development Index (HDI). Now 25 years old, HDI was introduced to counter the shortcomings of GDP. Simplistically, a developing country may have a relatively high GDP per capita number (due perhaps to some large resource endowment like oil) but a low level of development. As the chart below shows, human development encompasses diverse dimensions that go beyond a decent standard of living (click for larger image).

Human Development Dimensions jpeg

The strength of the HDI itself is its simplicity. It is an equally weighted composite of only three factors: life expectancy, education (with two sub components of adult literacy and school enrolment) and GDP per capita. Nonetheless, it serves its purpose: to advertise to the world that politicians need to look at the capabilities of their populations, not just the level of wealth. Continue reading

Marching Rather than Blogging

Too tired to blog anything extended today after attending an action-against-climate-change rally down in London.

Glorious day for a march, and hopefully I will join the larger demonstration in Paris this December (to coincide with the COP 21 international climate talks).

For those who view this type of action as pointless, read my blog post here for one kind of response. A more considered treatise on the real value of any kind of direct action would require its own post. Another thing to add to my ‘to do’ list.

Below is our trusty band of marchers from Henley in Transition during the pre-march gathering stage and then after the march at the Houses of Parliament.



Houses of Parliament

Chart of the Day, 6 March 2015: Global Food Prices and Production

Yesterday, I highlighted the tail risk of climate change; that is, low probability but high impact outcomes that could devastate the planet.

Nonetheless, while climate change is already showing up as biodiversity stress, it is not yet appearing as an aggregated agricultural impact across the globe. True, we can produce regional examples of likely climate change-induced distress. For example, climate change probably (but not certainly) helped tip the odds toward the strong western United States drought that we have been witnessing. This, in turn, has affected certain types of crop. But climate change has yet to have a material impact on global food production in its entirety.

Below is the composite Food Price Index from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Data source here (click for larger image).

FAO Food Price Index jpeg

Real inflation-adjusted food prices are currently not far off their 1960s/70s levels. True, they are up about 40% from 20 years of so ago, but the world has got a lot richer since then. Indeed, Chinese real GDP per capita has more than doubled over the last 10 years and India’s same statistic is up about 60%. Continue reading