We can apply comparable principles when talking about climate change. In 2016, a climate change risk assessment was produced by the Centre for Science and Policy (CsaP) at the University of Cambridge, based on a series of meetings held at Harvard University, Tsinghua University in Beijing, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water in Delhi and Lancaster House in London. These meetings were attended by experts in energy policy, climate science, technology, finance, international security, politics and economics, with the ultimate goal of determining how big a problem climate change really is.
The report asserts that the risks of climate change should be assessed in the same way as risks to national security, financial stability, or public health. It concentrates especially on the “worst-case scenario,” how likely it is to occur, and what steps can be taken to reduce the risks of that scenario. To quote from the report: “The most important decision any government has to make about climate change is one of priority: how much effort to expend on countering it, relative to the effort that must be spent on other issues. This risk assessment aims to inform that decision.”
The following topics were considered:
- What we are doing to the climate: the future trajectory of global greenhouse gas emissions;
- How the climate may change, and what that could do to us – the ‘direct risks’ arising from the climate’s response to emissions;
- What, in the context of a changing climate, we might do to each other – the ‘systemic risks’ arising from the interaction of climate change with systems of trade, governance and security;
- How to value the risks; and
- How to reduce the risks – the elements of a proportionate response.
Now, considering the challenges we face here in Washington, are there potential benefits of a collaborative risk assessment for climate-related coastal hazards? Would determining responses that are proportionate to risks and sharing an agenda for allocating resources based on prioritized risk reduction be valuable?
Although these questions are extremely complex, one thing is for certain. Actions must be taken to address these issues at multiple scales, and it will take coordinated effort. Meetings such as these, in which experts from various agencies and perspectives participate together to determine priorities and solutions, are an important first step.