Threats and promises in global warming, says study

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It inevitably dwells on the many threats in the coming decades, from a rise in annual flood costs to the 2,900 extra respiratory disease deaths that air pollution could cause each year.

But it also forecasts several benefits of global warming, including the chance to grow commercial crops more suited to warmer climates, and what it calls the “potentially very large” social and economic benefits of falling demand for winter heating that could add up to more than £1bn a year by the 2050s.

That is probably to be expected in a report supposed to help the government forge policies to help the UK adapt to climate change, said Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham research institute on climate change and the environment at the London School of Economics. “That does require that it recognises opportunities and not just threats.”

But it is also true that critics have rounded on some recent climate studies for failing to emphasise potential benefits, he added. Researchers are more aware of such criticism now, he said, “but it’s important to recognise that in all these assessments, the potential upsides seem to be fewer and more far between than the potential downsides”.

Threats and promises in global warming, says study


It is not often that reports on climate change highlight the benefits of global warming, as well as the risks.

Yet that is what the 464-page Climate Change Risk Assessment published on Thursday by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs seeks to do.

While many climate experts welcomed the report’s breadth, some were struck by its findings on potential benefits.

“This is a remarkable piece of work from Defra,” said Peter Mallaburn, reader in climate policy at De Montfort University in Leicester, adding the many mentions of opportunities presented by climate change, especially in the section on agriculture, appeared unusual. “There is a strange shift in tone in the body of the report on agriculture,” he added, which makes that chapter appear “unbalanced”.

A fireman evacuates a boy from rising flood waters at Otney IslandA fireman evacuates a boy from rising waters near Oxford. Heavy flooding hit much of central England in 2007

The agriculture section cites many climate risks, such as increases in drought, pests and disease. But it also discusses possible benefits from higher yields for crops, such as wheat and sugar beet.

Some groups, such as the CBI employers’ group, welcomed this focus.

“Defra is right to highlight that as well as the risks there are opportunities to be had from adapting to climate change,” said Matthew Brown, the group’s head of energy and climate change policy.

“For instance, the UK has much expertise it can sell in other countries, including advice on water efficiency, insurance and other financial products.”

Gideon Middleton, senior lecturer in business and climate change at the University of East Anglia, said the risks of climate change also preoccupy many businesses. “But there are opportunities for some companies in certain sectors to look at this in another way,” he said, and they have looked at adapting operations to provide services that will be required as climate changes.


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