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Scientific Foundations and Potential Effects

Climate change is referred to as changes in the statistical distribution of weather patterns in the long run (over decades to millions of years). The most comprehensive study is “Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). There are additional studies that examine in detail what is happening in specific developed countries. Two such comprehensive studies are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Report and the 2013 Draft Climate Assessment Report.[1]

There has been a gradual change of the surface temperature over the past century. This change has been well documented. The mean temperature changed globally (Northern Hemisphere) in January and July between 1880 and 2011 (see Figures 1.1a and 1.1b). The scale is Celsius multiplied by 100. Thus, both in the coldest month and the hottest month of the year, there have been steady rises in temperature of about 1° C over the course of the past century. This change of just one degree may not sound like much, but there is clear scientific evidence that an additional change of temperature of 0.7°C will have dire consequences (see Figure 1.2). In the United States, average temperature has increased by about

a Temperature anomaly 1880-2011 (January)

Figure 1.1a Temperature anomaly 1880-2011 (January)

Note: The scale on the vertical axis is measured in 1/100 of degrees Celsius. Source:

b Temperature anomaly 1880-2011 (July)

Figure 1.1b Temperature anomaly 1880-2011 (July)

Note: The scale on the vertical axis is measured in 1/100 of degrees Celsius. Source:

1.5°F since record keeping began in 1895; more than 80 percent of this increase has occurred since 1980.[2]

There are clear links between human activities and the rise in temperature, principally through the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (such as N2O, SO2, and CH4). The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report compiled by the IPCC (AR4) stated that “changes in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols, land cover and solar radiation alter the energy balance of the climate system.” It concluded that “increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations are very likely to have caused most of the increases in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century.”[3] The 2013 Draft Climate Assessment Report states: “Much of the climate change of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities.”[2]

What impact will it have on hunger, water shortage, flooding, and diseases associated with rising temperature? The answer depends on the rise in temperature. Even if actions are taken now to reduce CO2 emissions, the emissions will at least double by the end of 2100. This will produce a rise of mean temperature of 3°C (with a 95 percent band of between 2 to 4.5°C).[5] In most cases, the number of people affected in each dimension mentioned above will depend on the temperature in a nonlinear way. All of that is demonstrated in Figure 1.2 below. We summarize here what Figure 1.2 exactly says. On the vertical left axis, we plot the impact on the number of people affected in terms of (1) hunger, (2) malaria, and

  • (3) flooding as a result of the temperature rise. (1) Rising temperature will cause more frequent droughts mostly in Africa and some other pockets such as Latin America and Asia. This impact will be felt starting at a temperature rise above 1.7° C. It will negatively affect agriculture in Australia. However, it will not increase hunger there, since Australia is already developed. In Africa, especially in SubSaharan Africa, the population increase is already outstripping the increase in food production. It will get much worse in the current century.[6] (2) Malaria will reach new places. This process has already begun.[7] (3) Climate change will result in rising sea levels. Investigations have predicted a rise in sea level in 2100 of between
  • 0.5 meters and 1.4 meters.[8] It will also lead to an increase in flooding of river basins.[9] In addition, it will lead to more frequent flooding in other parts of the
Hunger, malaria, flooding, and water shortage in 2080

Figure 1.2 Hunger, malaria, flooding, and water shortage in 2080

Note: Flooding, Hunger, and Malaria risks are on the left scale and Water Shortage risk on the right scale.

Source: Adapted from N.W. Arnell et al, “The consequences of CO2 stabilisation for the impacts of climate change” (2002) 53 Climatic Change 413.

world.13 On the right hand side vertical axis, we plot the impact on water shortage. While hunger, malaria, and flooding will affect tens of millions, the water shortage problem will affect hundreds of millions by 2080.

There will be more droughts in more places than before, more storms, more hurricanes, as well as more inundations. While these events will have an environmental impact, they also will have economic effects with implications for the financial industry. There will be irreversible losses on coral seas, and coastal land will be lost forever. It will lead to a change in the comparative attractiveness of cities where most people live. In the developing countries, cities with large, informally living populations will suffer. On the other hand, in developed countries, some cities that today are less desirable could become more desirable in the future.14 This will have an economic impact: first, there will be a redistribution of wealth within countries. We know from the past that such redistributions can lead to regional tensions and civil wars. Thus, the manner in which the environmental impact of climate change is distributed among and within countries will also influence the

Jens H. Christensen and Ole B. Christensen, “Severe Summertime Flooding in Europe” (2002) 421 Nature 805.

Matthew Kahn, Climatopolis: How Our Cities will Thrive in Our Hotter Future (Basic Books, New York 2010).

political environment. That in turn will affect the laws and policies that take shape in international economic law.

  • [1] Thomas R. Karl, Jerry M. Melillo, and Thomas C. Peterson (eds.), Global Climate Change Impactsin the United States (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2009); Draft Climate Assessment Report.
  • [2] Draft Climate Assessment Report 25.
  • [3] IPCC Report (2007) 5 (accessed October 23, 2012).
  • [4] Draft Climate Assessment Report 25.
  • [5] Reto Knutti and Gabriele C. Hegerl, “The Equilibrium Sensitivity of the Earth’s Temperature toRadiation Changes” (2008) 1 Nature Geoscience 735.
  • [6] Michael Herrmann, Food Security and Agricultural Development (UNCTAD Report No. 196,UNCTAD, Geneva 2009) 14, Fig. 5.
  • [7] Simon I. Hay et al., “Climate Change and the Resurgence of Malaria in the EastAfrican Highlands” (2002) 415 Nature 903.
  • [8] Stefan Rahmstorf, “A Semi-Empirical Approach to Projecting Future Sea-Level Rise” (2007) 315Science 368.
  • [9] M.J. Booij, “Impactof Climate Change on River FloodingAssessedwith Different Spatial ModelResolutions” (2005) 303 Journal of Hydrology 176.
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