Wednesday 21 September 2011

Adapting to climate change

Professor Matt Kahn (UCLA) talked at LSE yesterday on how cities adapt to climate change. It was a great talk, so if you missed it here's a broad outline of what he had to say. The text is from Matt's blog (which comes highly recommended if you are interested in environmental and urban economics). If you want more details, you should read his new book, Climatopolis.

There's several different ways to approach the broad question of how will Europe adapt to climate change.

1. You can focus on geography and compare likely scenarios for northern versus southern nations and coastal versus inland nations and nations who have built up along rivers.

2. You can contrast likely outcomes for the richest nations in Europe versus poorer nations in Europe. You can also discuss across income groups the issue of how the rich will cope versus how the poor will cope.

3. You can contrast how urbanites will cope versus how agricultural interests will adapt.

4. You can discuss how the EU and its emphasis on free trade within the zone will help nations to adapt to changing conditions.

5. You can discuss which nations have the best institutions to allow them to be flexible to adapt to changing circumstances.

I see an important role for geographers here. There is a real need for specificity and in particular for detailed maps to be made concerning the geography of different European nations. Which of their cities are at greatest risk of flooding? Are their citizens aware of these evolving risks? What "insurance" have these nations purchased through where they locate housing and industry and what types of materials they build with?

A recent example of such specificity is a new paper about California's coastline and climate change adaptation. I will blog about that paper in the future.

As readers of this exciting blog know, I am an optimist. Human ingenuity is a key asset in helping us to cope with change. If we know that we face increased threats of extreme heat and cold and floods and other challenges, this "heads up" is a first step to making investments now that will reduce the damage caused by these events when they happen. My Climatopolis book was meant to start a discussion about how economists view investment under uncertainty. A surprising number of environmentalists view men and women as helpless doomed individuals who will be knocked out by Mother Nature. I don't believe that. We have many strategies available to us to adapt to the very real challenge of climate change and we have the right incentives to do so.

[This outline originally posted on Matt Kahn's Environmental and Urban Economics blog on Thursday 16th September. Thanks to Matt for permission to reproduce it.]