G20 countries will face a frontal wave of climate impacts | Opinions


The climate frontlines aren’t just Tuvalu or the Maldives: it’s Tokyo, Brussels, New York and the economic hearts of the world.

Therefore, it is impossible to believe that as the world comes together for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), its largest economies – which emit 80% of all greenhouse gases – continue to have such stilted and slow commitments to ward off climate risk. The reality is that all G20 countries are facing a frontal wave of climate impacts that will ripple through their economies 30 years from now.

These are the conclusions of the new “G20 Climate Impacts Atlas”, a study based on the most recent science.

Heatwaves, droughts, fires and floods will increase in severity and frequency, creating risk and instability for today’s G20 growth models.

Most of the G20 countries share one common trait: long, densely populated coasts, teeming with vital infrastructure that over time will stand in the way of dangerous turbulence.

Along with the risks to coastal centers and major urban centers, agriculture and tourism are also emerging as the main economic victims of the G20, fundamentally threatening the food supply and livelihoods of millions of people. This may represent a wiping out of GDP equivalent to the economic toll of several COVID-19 pandemics.

In Australia, rampant floods, hurricanes and bushfires will drive up insurance costs and hit several hundred billion dollars in the property market by mid-century. India – currently the fastest growing G20 economy – faces acute economic stress by 2050, with climate shocks leaving its millions of farmers significantly poorer, while up to 18 million people will be in constant danger of river flooding and heat waves that last 25 times longer.

Heat waves, in fact, are emerging as a major stressor in all G20 countries – they will last at least 10 times longer by 2050, and in the case of Argentina, Brazil and the United States. Indonesia, more than 60 times longer.

From agriculture to construction, health infrastructure for the elderly and disease prevention, not to mention the simple impacts on productivity of high temperatures, this resurgence of heat waves risks digging a hole in the earth. G20 economies and significantly reduce GDP growth.

The G20 can heed the risk and pivot to its advantage. If they don’t, they will let risk reign and see the prospects for prosperity crumble before their eyes by 2050.

By 2050, our tense climate will cause ruinous shocks to the G20 at every turn. At a time when the pendulum of the climate negotiations seems to have tilted towards competition for cooperation, it is important to recall a great step forward that was made when governments reached an agreement on the Paris Agreement in 2015 .

It wasn’t just the 1.5C target and the 2050 net-zero horizon. It was also a shift from rigid treaty obligations to a global regime based on mutual interest and the recognition that the price of inaction would be high.

The bottom line is loss and damage. Our adrift status quo will damage millions of livelihoods in all G20 countries; damage the planet as a whole; and hurt the economic outlook as the race for net-zero rewrites the rules in favor of early entrants.

The spirit of mutual interest enshrined in Paris demanded that each government find its own way. It is time for each G20 government to keep that promise and achieve more ambitious goals at COP26, especially more ambitious short-term goals.

Climate change is a unique problem and it requires unique and creative responses. Interpreting it as a usual international transactional dispute will not allow us to achieve the degree of intent we need and will also overlook the fact that each country has an interest in its solution.

It is really in everyone’s interest to preserve the planet for our common good.

The window for action closes. We have little time to reorient our economies drastically over the next few decades, or to reorient them drastically for us through climate damage. It is time for the G20 to turn its economic agenda into a climate agenda.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.


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