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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 21, May 20, 2023

Risks and Resilience in the Era of Climate Change | K N Ninan

Saturday 20 May 2023



by K N Ninan *

Risk and Resilience in the Era of Climate Change
by Vinod Thomas

Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore
2023. xxiii + 195p. US$ 27.99
ISBN 978-981-19-8620-8
ISBN 978-981-19-8621-5 (eBook)

At no time in human history has mankind faced multiple environmental challenges as the current generation such as unprecedented levels of climate change, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, pollution, and land degradation. While releasing the synthesis report of the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned nations that the climate time bomb is ticking. He noted that humans are responsible for all global heating in the past 200 years; the rate of temperature rise is the highest in the last 200 years and carbon dioxide concentrations are the highest in at least two million years.

Every increment in temperature compounds the risk of damages caused by weather-related climate extremes such as prolonged droughts, intense flooding events, cyclones, hurricanes, and rising sea levels, apart from aggravating our vulnerability to zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19. The UN Secretary-General hastened to add that the climate time bomb can be defused and that the IPCC synthesis report is a survival guide for humanity. He gave a clarion call for fast-tracking of climate action by all countries so that the Paris Climate goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels is achievable. The IPCC report calls for rapid and far-reaching transitions across all sectors and systems to achieve deep and sustained emissions reductions and secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

This involves the deployment of low-or zero-emission technologies; reducing and changing demand through infrastructure design and access, socio-cultural and behavioural changes, and increased technological efficiency and adoption; social protection, climate, or other services; and protecting and restoring ecosystems.

In this illuminating book Vinod Thomas, Visiting Professor at the National University of Singapore and former Senior Vice-President of the World Bank collates a wealth of data and information to analyse the risks faced by mankind due to the unprecedented rates of change in climatic parameters such as temperature, precipitation and sea levels and the ways to build resilience against weather-related natural disasters. Climate change has resulted in a change in the trajectory of risk shifting from a low-probability high-impact situation to a high probability high-impact situation. Part 1 of the book consisting of five chapters makes an in-depth analysis of risk and resilience. According to the author, mainstream economics has failed to anticipate the rapidly increasing climate risk and the policies needed to address this. The chapters in this section discuss the socio-economic and ecological risks, the importance of anthropogenic and systematic nature of climate-related disasters, understanding and anticipating risks in the context of extreme threats such as climate change, and the role of resilience in addressing these risks. Building resilience is not just increasing the capacity to recover from disasters but also finding innovative ways to strengthen resilience. Part II includes four chapters which discuss the climate change problem, disaster prevention, mitigation and management, mitigation and adaptation efforts, the costs and benefits of climate action, trends and sources of climate finance.

In the concluding chapter on ‘Transformative Change’ the author emphasises that old recipes will no longer work and that economics needs to make transformative changes in how they value the environment to make progress in achieving a sustainable pattern of economic growth and to promote human well-being. There is an urgent need to build resilience against the adverse impacts of climate change by taking pro-active actions to address climate extremes through correcting faulty policies such as phasing out perverse subsidies, giving incentives for transiting to a low carbon economy and society, investing in climate infrastructure, renewables, and nature. The author calls for a paradigm shift to prioritise building resilience that creates a space for innovation and risk-taking in the search for solutions.

Governments and businesses need to prioritise their investments and strategies to advance environmental sustainability and green growth. While acknowledging the initiatives taken by several governments to promote a climate-resilient and nature-friendly development path the book emphasises the need to scale up these actions in a timely and efficient way. The author also makes a plea for shifting from GDP-centric growth towards low-carbon, quality growth. There is a need to decouple economic growth from carbon increases. Only a few countries have achieved this so far. Richer countries need to prioritise and scale up climate finance for developing countries as well as increase investments in renewable energy, carbon capture and sequestration. The benefits of climate action far outweigh the costs of climate inaction. Apart from tracking changes in natural capital, in addition to produced and human capital to gauge human well-being and economic progress, the author points to the importance of the concept of circular economy in minimising waste and emphasises regenerative rather than extractive growth.

This book is timely and fills a critical gap in understanding the nature and extent of climatic and other risks faced by mankind and the strategies needed to build resilience against these risks. It will be useful for researchers, scholars, policymakers and practitioners interested in finding solutions to the myriad environmental challenges faced by mankind.

* (Reviewer: K N Ninan is Lead Author, Sixth Assessment Report, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Geneva, Switzerland)

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