A report examining the impacts of anthropogenic climate change; exacerbation of social inequality, undermining of infrastructure and challenges to resilience of urban areas across local, national and supranational scales
1. An Introduction:
1.1. Climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity within the next century (Rahmstorf, 2010). Anthropogenic climate is ‘the long term impacts on global weather patterns caused by increases in global surface, water and atmosphere temperatures, produced by humans’. Sea levels are set to rise by 0.98m within the next 85 years (Randall, 2015) due to increased temperatures melting ice reserves. Over the past 140 years’ temperatures have risen on average by 0.8?C (NASA, 2010). Human activity since the 1880’s, and particularly since 1970 has caused dramatic temperature increases (Archer, 2007) producing increasingly frequent extreme weather. These impacts and attempts to combat them have produced difficulties within all scales and areas of human society. This report outlines causes of climate change, and examines its impacts at scalar levels of; local, national and supra-national. In each scale assessment of exacerbation of social inequality, undermining of infrastructure and challenges to urban resilience are discussed. The report provides proposals on who should take responsibility for climate change before concluding. To begin causes of anthropogenic climate change must be understood.
2. The Causes of anthropogenic climate change
2.1. The major human contributions to climate change are the burning of fossil fuels, and deforestation for urbanisation and agriculture (Rahmstorf, 2010). Burning fossil fuels releases harmful gases including C02, CH4 and N20 contributing to the greenhouse effect; ‘where greenhouse gases in earth’s atmosphere radiate infrared energy from the sun back towards earth, and absorb heat themselves warming earth further than if it did not possess an atmosphere’ (Brack and Vrolijk, 1999). This phenomenon is natural but highly exacerbated to ‘dangerous levels’ by human activity. Human activities; power generation, road transport, deforestation, cement production and aviation, all contribute to greenhouse gas levels (Bellassen and Stephan, 2015) shown in figure 1 below. Greenhouse gas emission are highly correlated with development, with Global North nations contributing drastically more than Global South nations (Solomon et al., 2007). Deforestation is damaging due to its ‘doubled impact’ via the removal of trees which are a major carbon sink; ‘absorbers of CO2’ which when preserved reduce CO2 levels (Cotton and Pielke, 2007). These causes have wide ranging impacts on humanity at all scales.
Figure 1: greenhouse gas levels (Soloman et al., 2007)
3. Scales and Impacts
3.1. Climate change impacts all scalar levels of human society from the individual to the global, across all dimensions. Increased frequency of extreme weather events; hurricanes per year are now double 1920 figures (Mcdonald, 2015) poses challenges to society; undermining infrastructure, exacerbating inequality through its damages and costs and challenging the ability of urban areas to react to stress and shock through urban resilience (Pearson et al., 2013). Sea Level rise is another major impact of climate change; with levels set to rise by 0.98m by 2100 if emissions go unchecked (Randall, 2015). Resultantly over 1 billion individuals risk displacement by 2060 (Doig and Ware, 2016). Impacts also differ between the global North and global South due to varying levels of development, wealth and existing inequality (Hayes and Smith, 1993). One applicable scale for assessment of impacts is the ‘local’ scale.
3.2. A Locality is “a place or region of sub-national spatial scale” (Gregory and Johnston, 2009, p.425). One example of climate change exacerbating inequality Is through disproportionate impacts upon slum dwellers. Droughts caused by climate change cause famine in Sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia and Niger), and produce water shortages (Ramin, 2009). Slum areas suffer more drastically due to insufficient economic resources to locate alternative water sources, travel to unaffected areas or implement technologies. Whilst the social inequality faced by slums is evident, climate change exacerbates it. Children here suffer particularly badly from diseases transmitted when flooding infects drinking water with cholera and malaria (Ramin, 2009). Infrastructure in localities, particularly in the Global South is often of poor quality and design. Roads become inaccessible due to increasingly frequent flooding (Pakistan) and economic infrastructure destroyed in local villages such as Pha Nga in Thailand stripped of its tourist industry following 2004’s Tsunami (Lessig et al., 2005). Similar damage is present in the Global North, for example flooding in Gloucestershire in 2007 (Wilby et al., 2008). These extreme weather events and their increasing frequency are results of climate change, undermining local infrastructure. Local areas are also often implementation sites of urban resilience; at city levels climate change poses severe issues, particularly in coastal and river areas. Climate change exacerbates existing exogenous and endogenous stresses and shocks facing urban areas; such as by weakening social networks or damaging integrated systems including water and waste management as occurred in New York following superstorm Sandy (Yates et al, 2014). Increased frequency and severity of extreme weather places pressures upon local areas to protect themselves from unprecedented shocks and stresses produced by climate change. Localities in the Global North suffers less; thanks to wealthier governments, as opposed to the Global South which lacks resources to assist all localities (Hayes and Smith, 1993. These impacts often cumulate, forming larger issues at national level.
3.3. Nations face various climate change impacts, such as the exacerbation of inequality from displacement and GNP loss in LEDC nations like Kiribati. Kiribati is formed from a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean with 103,500 nationals (Lewis, 2010). It has limited natural resources other than its fish and tourist sector. Due to being a low lying oceanic island group, two of its islands were lost in 1999 via sea level rise, with all others at threat in the next 20-30years (Lewis, 2010). The rise has resulted in the first ‘climate refugees’. Kiribati’s size and Global South status ensured insufficient wealth to protect itself, and it is now losing its fish stocks due to temperature changes in its coastal waters (McIver et al, 2014). Resultantly poor residents, along with the nation of Kiribati itself are becoming even poorer, suffering exacerbated inequality from climate change. Climate change also undermines national infrastructure in the Global North. The USA declared its infrastructure vulnerable and ageing in 2014 (NCA, 2014). This infrastructure; road, rail, physical, power or food is highly integrated and connected; ensuring that if one element fails then so do all others causing catastrophic national failure. Climate change is pushing US infrastructure to the brink; in 2012 damages to flood defences, power generation and underground rail and road were caused by storm surge from superstorm Sandy (Yates et al., 2014). This produced issues of food distribution, power and water shortages and highlights climate changes undermining inadaptable infrastructure at national levels, with similar events occurring within America in Florida (Kelley, 2015). Finally, taxation to protect urban areas from the climate change via implementation of urban resilience (collected nationally) unfairly impacts the poorest within society. The top 1% and their companies account for an estimated 99% of production based emissions (Mendelsohn and Neumann, 1999). These corporations pay miniscule fractions of the total budget utilised to minimise climate change impacts. Resultantly, economic inequality between the rich and poor at national levels is exacerbated, through the use of tax payers’ money to fund protection, despite them not being responsible for the problem. The fight against this phenomenon is ‘climate justice’, (Shue, 2014) prominent in the Global North. Impacts are however evident at larger supra-national scales also.
3.4. Supra national scales “involve more than one nation” (Dunning, 1997, p.27). Here climate change causes failure of current infrastructure undermining much existing and currently proposed infrastructure worldwide for multiple reasons. Firstly, current infrastructure and their construction methods cannot combat climate change and indeed contribute to its intensification. Roads are constructed from C02 producing concrete and surfaces prone to fracture in hot conditions which are increasingly common (Chinowsky and Arndt, 2012). Power stations are built on low lying coastal land vulnerable to extreme weather, such as Fukushima in Japan (Bird et al., 2014), undermining critical infrastructure in the face of climate change. These trends are set to continue, and small number of ‘resilient’ infrastructure projects produce high demand for incredibly rare earth metals such as chromium (Johnson et al., 2006). This produces resource scarcity on a global scale. Drought is also exacerbating social inequality on multinational scales; with food prices rising due to increasing scarcity and poor yields. This ensures that many in the Global South go hungry such as in Ethiopia (Ramin, 2009), particularly those already disadvantaged, on limited income, and with no access to technological remedy. Finally, urban resilience is challenged on a supra-national scale by the extreme costs of implementing resilience sufficient to combat the extreme magnitude of climate changes’ drastic and impacts. Governments and private sectors lack finances or resources to provide resilience against climate change when acting alone uncoordinated. This is true for both the Global South and those in the rich Global North, such are the magnitudes of costs involved in producing resilience to this level (Hayhoe, 1999). The magnitude of impacts ensures that globally progress towards urban resilience has been inadequate such as those in Japan combating Tsunamis; including its 400km long Tsunami wall which failed in 2011 (Raby et al., 2015) seen in figure 2. Impacts of climate change are widespread in scale and scope, begging what must be done to tackle the issue.
Figure 2: Japan’s ‘Tsunami Wall’ (Photorator, 2016)
4. Responsibilities for tackling climate change impacts
4.1. Mitigating and allocating responsibility for climate change is complex; spread across multiple scales and government forms. Perhaps the only way responsible solution is a multi-tiered approach, similar to that of sustainable development through Agenda 21 and LA21 (LGMG, 1993). Public and private sectors must be involved, with emissions tackled at source (SCGP, 2007). A multi-scaled approach, containing broad representative bodies for supra-national issues, national bodies to combat cumulative impacts, and local bodies countering specific impacts could integrate, collectively holding responsibility. Climate governance; aimed at steering sectors towards sustainable, resilient and equitable solutions (Biermann et al., 2010) would be the core of any such effort. This concept is however far from realisation due to economic costs, and the current pro-growth status of many world nations. Resultantly responsibilities often lay un-assigned, forgotten (Keskitalo, 2010). Initiatives like this exist in the shadow of pro-growth agendas, and more power must be placed into the hands of governments to challenge business and non-abiding nations, as collectively only a joint effort from all sectors will produce a favourable outcome. Responsibility must ultimately though be allocated to both producers and consumers through law and lifestyle.
5.1. Humanity via burning of fossil fuels and deforestation has caused global temperature increase at alarming rates; with severe impacts via sea level rise and increasingly frequent extreme weather, not to mention increased likelihood of economic catastrophe, loss of life and displacement. These impacts are felt at all scales of human society, from localities to supra-nationally. Social inequality is exacerbated with both the poorest members of society, and the poorest countries often paying the most in terms of impacts. Infrastructure via damage, destruction or functional redundancy is another major impact across all scales produced by climate change. Road networks falter, whilst new construction to meet global climate initiatives risks causing resource crises of rare earth metals. Economic infrastructure can falter, and with it so can all other infrastructural systems due to interconnectivity, particularly at national levels. Urban resilience is also impacted; through climate changes ability to exacerbate existing stresses and shocks which it seeks to address, increasing costs of such projects to levels requiring unlikely partnership between public and private sectors who are both blinded by a pro-growth agenda. Solutions are not simple, and require a multi-tiered and multi-faceted approach from both united public and private sectors at all spatial scales. It is clear however that without political guidance, and strong laws supporting emission reduction this isn’t possible in the current pro-growth climate. Hence climate governance will play a critical role in (hopefully) overcoming the problem of anthropogenic climate change.
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