Tech changes can’t fix climate change, say experts

PARIS, France (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Dealing with climate change and its risks will require more than just technical responses such as drought-resilient crops and higher sea walls.

The world will also have to reshape the economic and political incentives that are driving global warming, scientists said during a recent week-long conference of climate researchers in Paris.

“The biggest risk of all that we face is that we’re addressing the wrong problem,” said University of Oslo sociologist Karen O’Brien.

She said using more renewable energy and setting up crop insurance schemes and early warning systems is important, but climate change “is more than a technical challenge.”

Finding genuine solutions will have to involve “looking at who has power and how that might need to change,” she said.

For example, O’Brien said the rush to secure oil drilling rights in the Arctic is painted by some analysts as the potential start of a new Cold War as countries compete to gain access to some of the planet’s last large untapped oil deposits in pursuit of profit and energy security.

However, it is happening despite science that shows a third of the world’s already discovered oil reserves, as well as half of gas re-serves and 80 percent of coal reserves, must stay in the ground to avoid runaway climate change that could see food supplies collapse.

O’Brien said climate risks will not be tackled effectively unless such contradictions are dealt with.

One way to achieve that could be through people stepping up to try and change the way governments and institutions behave.

“Small changes can make big differences, and individuals, especially when working together, can generate big social change,” she said.

Bending political and economic power to solve climate problems will be difficult, but “we are transforming either way,” she said, because a world 4 C warmer, which is the current trajectory for 2100, would reshape life on Earth.

It would be largely impossible to adapt to some of the accompanying problems, she said, including a rise in deaths from extreme heat in South Asia.

Shobhakar Dhakal of the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand, said fast-growing cities may provide some of the biggest opportunities to put the world on a different path.

More than 70 percent of global emissions are already caused by energy use in cities, according to scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Urban areas will have 2.6 billion more people by 2050, most of them in Asia and Africa, Dhakal said.

He said climate-changing emissions could be reduced dramatically if rapidly urbanizing areas can build homes close to jobs and services and make walking and public transport good options.

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