The Fraser Institute

The Fraser Institute

March 01, 2007 06:00 ET

The Fraser Institute: Adaptation and Sustainable Development Will Yield Greater Benefits Than Kyoto Protocol Targets

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - March 1, 2007) - Governments need to further develop policies to reduce human vulnerability to climate-sensitive threats such as malaria, hunger, water shortages, flooding, and habitat loss, in addition to seeking cost-effective methods of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, says a new study released by The Fraser Institute, an independent research organization.

This strategy, known as "adaptive management", will encourage sustainable development and reduce the world's vulnerability to climate-sensitive effects while costing significantly less than the Kyoto Protocol, said Dr. Indur Goklany, author of Adaptive Management of Climate Change Risks.

"Adaptation allows us to selectively capture the positive aspects of climate change while reducing the negative. While the impacts of global warming are uncertain, there is no doubt that malaria, hunger, water stress, and coastal flooding are real and urgent problems here and now," Goklany said.

"Focused adaptation is more likely to deliver benefits than mitigation such as greenhouse gas reductions, and deliver those benefits sooner rather than later."

Goklany has written extensively on globalization, economic development, environmental quality, and human well-being. He was a delegate for the United States to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and to the team negotiating the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

His study compares the global benefits and costs of reducing the impact of climate change through mitigation strategies, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or through strategies to reduce society's vulnerability to these impacts. The comparison shows that reducing vulnerability will provide greater benefits at lower costs than mitigation in a shorter period of time.

Based on scenarios generated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which project global temperatures will increase by 3.2 to 4 degrees C by 2085, Goklany calculates that the contribution of climate change to most threats is generally less than the contribution of factors unrelated to climate change over this same time period.

"Developing countries are most vulnerable to warming because they lack the capacity to cope with its impacts. Governments should work towards enhancing their adaptive capacity by promoting economic development, technological ability, and the formation of human capital, which is the point of sustainable development," Goklany said.

The study emphasizes that adaptation or mitigation strategies are not mutually exclusive. Rather, the issue is how the relative balance of strategies might shift over time to ensure that society's well-being is optimized.

He suggests a number of policy options that allow adaptation and mitigation strategies to evolve and integrate over time:

- Reduce vulnerabilities to today's urgent climate-sensitive problems that might be exacerbated by future climate change.

- Reduce barriers to economic growth and advance human capital and technological change, the lack of which is the major reason that developing countries are most vulnerable to climate change and to adversity in general.

- Adopt measures to reduce emissions that would be justified in the absence of climate change while expanding these options through research and development of cleaner and more affordable technologies.

- Develop a more robust understanding of the science and impacts of climate change and of the policies effective in dealing with it.

- Monitor the impacts of climate change to give advance warning of dangerous impacts and, if necessary, rearrange priorities for mitigation and adaptation should the adverse impacts of warming on human and environmental well-being occur faster or threaten to be more severe or more likely than is currently projected.

Goklany notes that Canada should pay special attention to its climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, timber, water resources, fisheries, and tourism, ensuring that their vulnerability to change is reduced while enhancing their ability to take advantage of new opportunities created by climate change. Canada should also implement "no-regret" policies that can be justified without necessarily referring to climate change, such as elimination of natural resource subsidies.

"Calls for aggressive curtailment of greenhouse gases in the near-term wrongly assume that there is no greater environmental problem in the 21st century than climate change, and that adverse impacts of climate change would be more efficiently and effectively reduced through mitigation rather than adaptation," Goklany said.

"Adaptive management promotes sustainable development and helps developing nations deal with problems like malaria, hunger, HIV/AIDS, and poor access to safe water and sanitation. Mitigation only addresses future and less certain damages due to climate change. Consequently, the benefits associated with sustainable development will be obtained sooner and more certainly than through mitigation alone."

Adaptive Management of Climate Change Risks will appear in the forthcoming book, A Breath of Fresh Air: Market Solutions for Improving Canada's Environment, to be published by The Fraser Institute later this year.

The Fraser Institute is an independent research and educational organization based in Canada. Its mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government intervention on the welfare of individuals. To protect the Institute's independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research. Visit www.fraserinstitute.ca.

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