The Politics of Climate Change: Environmental Dynamics in International Affairs

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Some regions that now appear pristine have been subject to human management since prehistoric times. There is no simple relationship between population and deforestation or between common property rights and resource degradation. The analysis of institutions—in their broadest sense, including political, legal, economic, and traditional institutions—and their interactions with individual decision making is critical in explaining land use.

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Satellite images can provide important insights for social science, and social science can help guide satellite programs to useful applications. The age and gender structure of landholding households affects how much forest is cut for farming. Tax incentives affect Amazonian deforestation. Secure land tenure is important to long-term resource conservation. Road construction in forests leads to increased deforestation not only by farmers claiming land but also by logging companies.

How to develop land management institutions that both respond to local needs and mitigate global environmental change.

Global tensions holding back climate change fight, says WEF

How to aggregate in-depth studies of land cover and land use to provide global projections of use in large-scale modeling and international management of global change. Global change research encompasses the study of changes in coastal and marine ecosystems insofar as they are affected by physical and socioeconomic processes that are global in scale and effect.

Social and applied scientists have investigated the importance of coastal and marine ecosystems for many communities, regions, and nations. They have also addressed the ways in which resource use and pollution have altered the condition and biodiversity of coastal ecosystems in many regions of the world, including the destruction of protective and productive mangrove ecosystems, the degradation of coastal lagoons and estuaries and species that live or reproduce in them, and the minor contamination of even the deep and remote oceans.

Steady increases in demand, technological capacity, and effort have led to a long-term trend of increasing fish catches, which is believed to have leveled off during the s, indicating limits to sustainable harvests. People have responded to problems in coastal marine systems primarily by intensifying, diversifying, and expanding the areal extent of their uses of those systems, tending to extend such problems to the global level. Globalized systems of production and marketing, combined with increases in population and consumer demand and patterns of subsidization, increase competition between countries and communities for scarce marine resources.

Rules of free and open access, combined with the weaknesses of international management regimes, make it difficult to control harvesting in deep ocean and other multinational fisheries.

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Restricting access is a necessary but not sufficient approach to reducing incentives to overharvest and pollute marine ecosystems. The technical and institutional tools of marine resource management have not adequately incorporated the effects of coastal development, wetlands drainage, dams, and pollution of rivers and oceans in diminishing breeding habitat and degrading marine resources.


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The success of fisheries and coastal management depends on functional interdependence between local institutions and regional, national, and international institutions. Provide complete geographic coverage of the status of human use of marine and coastal resources.

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Analyze and model changes in the abundance of fish and marine mammal populations as a function of multiple social and environmental stresses, including interannual, decadal, and longer-term climatic change. Evaluate the full range of institutions, including traditional systems, to understand how they increase or reduce human impacts on coasts and oceans.

Fossil fuel use is the most prominent human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere. Since the s, a burst of human dimensions research seeking to understand the consumption of fossil fuels has been proceeding simultaneously at several levels.

The methods developed for studying energy use have more recently been applied to human transformations of the global. The results are useful as inputs to climate models, for anticipating future rates of environmental change, and for identifying effective ways to mobilize social and economic forces to alter trajectories of environmental change. First, fossil fuel use has been disaggregated by fuel type, geographic region, mediating technology, and social purpose lighting, water heating, transportation, steel making, etc.

It has been shown that patterns and environmental impacts vary greatly by country and that national-level consumption varies with technology, population, and other factors, such as industrialization and degree of central planning of economies. Second, progress has been made in understanding patterns and changes in energy and materials use across countries and over time. Countries beyond a certain level of affluence experience declines in per capita environmental impact, although considerable dispute remains about where the turning point lies.

Third, patterns of energy and materials use have been studied in relation to particular variables that may account for changes and variations in use, and some of these variables can be affected by public policy. At the household level, for example, energy use is affected by income and fuel prices, household structure and social group membership, and by individual knowledge, beliefs, and habits, as well as by the energy-using technologies that households possess.

There is significant potential to improve residential energy efficiency with appropriately designed interventions. The research strongly suggests that the most effective interventions are specific to consumers' situations and that they use combinations of information, incentives, and social influence. Participation of affected consumers in program design can greatly increase effectiveness. Research has focused on identifying how the energy consumption patterns of firms and individuals change as a function of changes in information, incentives, technology, and social organization, thus illuminating the potential for reducing society's reliance on fossil fuels by promoting the adoption of new technologies or changing behaviors and preferences.

Specific areas of extensive research include technology-focused research on energy consumption, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and nuclear power; research on price elasticities and response to incentives; and research on behavioral and informational factors affecting change in consumer choice. Research on energy conservation has blended behavioral and technological analyses to compare the technical potential for reducing the energy use required to provide an energy service, such as indoor climate control, with actual reductions in energy consumption.

It has examined ways to achieve more of this potential reduction by identifying and removing barriers to energy conservation, such as subsidies and other market distortions, principal-agent problems, incomplete consumer knowledge and misinformation, and problems related to the early stages of the introduction of new technology. This research provides a basis for selecting promising policy options to achieve national commitments to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions.

Materials balance analysis provides the basis of an accounting system that tracks the stocks and flows of certain materials, particularly the chemical elements, through the human economy. Analysis of material flows in this fashion has been called industrial metabolism and industrial ecology. The predominant role of fertilizer production in human-induced changes to the global nitrogen cycle was only recently recognized. Our understanding of energy use is far more sophisticated than it was two decades ago.

It has led to the broader concept of environmentally significant consumption and to the idea of applying analyses like those used for energy to various nonelemental materials of environmental importance, such as wood, steel, cement, glass, and plastics. An important part of research on energy use is scenario making, which seeks to extrapolate current energy use patterns into the future. Two important goals of scenario making are transparency explicit reviewable assumptions and self-consistency.

For global change studies, most scenarios are built on the basis of models of the evolution of national economies, often assuming a similar evolution for large groups of countries at a similar stage of economic development and structure. Typically, population growth is exogenous to the models, and per capita energy consumption is the subject of investigation. The most significant uncertainties relate to the determinants of the rate of introduction of new technologies. Scenario making is a conservative activity in that it assumes only slow changes from established trends; it is not well suited to exploring the significance of surprises and catastrophes.

Nonetheless, over the past two decades, scenario making to elucidate energy consumption has become a highly developed art, featuring dialogues among modelers to ensure quality control and intercomparisons and to highlight debatable assumptions. Scenario building has been an essential basis for IPCC assessment models of future climate and analyses of mitigation options, the latter employing models used for scenario building in policy analysis of greenhouse gas emission control strategies. Estimates of future emissions of greenhouse gases are highly sensitive to assumptions about future economic, technological, and social changes, particularly about the autonomous rates of decarbonization and improvement in the energy efficiency of technology, about the likelihood of further large-scale economic transformations, and about the stability of preferences.

Energy and materials uses are determined by multiple factors: they are not simple functions of population or economic activity but depend on complex interactions of these factors and others. Future emissions of greenhouse gases will be driven by pressures from increasing affluence and population, with countervailing trends that reduce the amount of energy and materials used per unit of economic activity and the rate of emissions per unit of energy and materials used. Current knowledge is inadequate to accomplish some tasks critical to understanding consumption trends, their potential environmental consequences, and the possibilities for altering them.

These tasks include:. Specifying the ways in which population, technology, affluence, preferences, policies, and other forces interact to change the rates of environmentally significant consumption in high-consuming developed economies and particularly in developing economies, where large increases in consumption are anticipated.

Identifying and quantifying important sources of variation in the adoption of environmentally beneficial technology among firms within industries. Human dimensions research has made important progress in understanding the consequences of global change for people and ecosystems. Drawing on earlier research in applied climatology and natural hazards, the past 10 years have seen a major effort to understand the potential impacts of climate change on human activity, as well as studies of the impacts of past and present climate variability, the impacts of ozone depletion on human health, and the effects of land degradation and biodiversity loss on society.

Credible climate impact assessments are a basis for developing policy responses to global climate change and for successful application of information on current climate variability to resource management. The first studies of potential global warming impacts analyzed how crop yields and water resources would change in developed countries in response to climate scenarios of monthly changes in temperature and precipitation, based on coarse and uncertain output from climate models simulating the equilibrium response to a doubling of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

It appears that many U. A major conceptual advance occurred in moving from impact assessments based on climate model scenarios to analyses based on an understanding of vulnerability. For example, rapid increases in water demand have increased drought vulnerability, and the spread of urban settlements into coastal and flood-prone regions has increased vulnerability to sea level rise and severe storms.

Another innovation is the development of multisectoral regional assessments of the consequences of climate change. The MINK study examined what would happen if the drought conditions of the s were imposed on the economy and resources of the MINK region of the future.

Maria Julia Trombetta - The University of Nottingham Ningbo China - 宁波诺丁汉大学

Taking into account adaptation, the study showed that, on the whole, agriculture would be able to cope with climate change better than forests or water resources and that impacts on the regional economy would be minor. The study found significant effects on northern ecosystems and hydrology.

These new approaches to climate impact assessment have relevance far beyond the study of global warming. The new approaches can also be used in analyzing the impacts of decadal shifts in atmospheric circulation and climate variability. For example, statistical crop models were used 69 to correlate ENSO with maize yields in Zimbabwe, and several early warning systems for famine also drive crop models with climate information to manage food security. One of the most significant emerging areas of research is the effects of climate change and variability on human health.

Several studies have shown that climate change may result in changes in the incidence and prevalence of such diseases as cholera and malaria, which debilitate human populations, 70 as well as changes in the geography of crop and livestock pests and diseases. Extreme events such as high temperatures have been linked to increased mortality, especially of older people and the infirm, in major cities.

Important developments and insights in this general area of research include the following:. The consequences of environmental change depend as much on the social systems that produce vulnerability as on the biophysical systems that cause environmental change. The consequences of environmental change are strongly dependent on the ability of people and social systems to adapt; consequently, access to economic resources is a key mediator between environmental changes and their impacts. Climate models can be linked to crop models to provide early warnings of famine. Knowledge is not yet adequate to achieve several goals critical to anticipating the likely consequences of future environmental changes, such as:.

Developing indicators of vulnerability that are sensitive to regional and social variations. Linking mesoscale outputs of climate models to regional impacts, taking into account vulnerability and the ability of vulnerable individuals and social systems to adapt. The most noticeable and perhaps most serious effects of long-term climate change may not be slow changes in average temperature or precipitation but rather such extreme events as storms, droughts, heat waves, floods, and wildfires; in some climate change scenarios, epidemics may be the most serious of all the dangers.

Because of the importance of such episodes to society, environmental scientists are increasingly attempting to predict changes in the frequency of extreme weather events and to identify the boundary conditions for the spread of disease.

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