UK Expert: Climate Change a Development Issue

Sept. 8, 2017

Esteemed scientist Sir Robert Watson was in Tokyo on 7th September calling for climate change and biodiversity to be recognised as development issues, rather than simply environmental ones.  

Sir Robert spoke at a press conference with fellow Blue Planet Prize laureates Dr Jane Lubchenco, former administrator of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Dr Thomas Lovejoy, professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University in Virginia, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Asahi Glass Foundation’s Blue Planet Prize.  

The trio pointed out that the health, prosperity and well-being of people around the world is at risk because of a loss of biodiversity and ongoing climate change.

While governments should be “applauded” for agreeing to the Paris Agreement, Sir Robert said existing solutions “are not yet at the scale needed to affect the global trajectory.” He appealed for governments worldwide to work with the private sector and civil society on a combination of policies, technologies and behavioural change.

He added that the “the cost of action is far less than the cost of inaction,” pointing out the risk that climate change-induced natural disasters and extreme weather cause to food, water and energy security as well as human health. Climate change, he said, would undermine many of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and therefore is a global, development issue.

“Even if it costs 3% of GDP [to address the increasing average global temperature], it's almost irrelevant,” he said. “The world’s economy is growing at 4% per year—2% in developed countries and 5–6% in developing countries—so, instead,   it would grow at 3.95% per year.”

Tackling climate change and biodiversity loss offers opportunities for businesses in renewable energy and energy efficient technologies as well as tourism and sustainable fishing.

Dr Lubchenco said studies have shown that if all global fisheries were recovered, the outcome would be a 90% increase in profits, one third more fish in the ocean and a 10% increase in harvests. She called on people to “use the ocean without using it up.”

While helping to recover fisheries nationwide in the United States in her role at NOAA, she slashed overfishing by 60%. Over a five year period, the results were a 35% increase in fishery-related jobs, a 23% increase in the amount of fish caught and a 32% increase in their value.

Meanwhile Dr Lovejoy pointed out that “biological diversity is an immense living library that we need in order to grow life sciences for human benefit.” A slug, for example, with an adhesive quality that works even in wet conditions has been found. Its special characteristic is being put to use in open heart surgery.

Sir Robert is a former chair of the Intergovernmental Science–Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which was established at COP10 in Nagoya in 2010 to scientifically assess the status of biodiversity and ecosystem services. He is also a former chief scientific adviser for the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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