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According to the WEF, the planet is ‘on the brink’

The Global Risks Report 2018 produced by the World Economic Forum lays out very clearly why this ridiculous debate about emissions reduction must stop. If they won’t believe the scientists, perhaps the economists can convince them.

Our planet on the brink

“Among the most pressing environmental challenges facing us are extreme weather events and temperatures; accelerating biodiversity loss; pollution of air, soil and water; failures of climate-change mitigation and adaptation; and transition risks as we move to a low-carbon future.

Extreme weather events in 2017 included unusually frequent Atlantic hurricanes, with three high-impact storms – Harvey, Irma and Maria – making landfall in rapid succession. According to the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) index, which is used to measure the intensity and duration of Atlantic storms, September 2017 was the most intense month on record. It was also the most expensive hurricane season ever.

Extreme rainfall can be particularly damaging – of the 10 natural disasters that caused the most deaths in the first half of 2017, eight involved floods or landslides. Storms and other weather-related hazards are also a leading cause of displacement, with the latest data showing that 76% of the 31.1 million people displaced during 2016 were forced from their homes as a result of weather-related events.

Last year also saw numerous instances of extreme temperatures. When the data are finalized, 2017 is expected to be among the three hottest years on record – the hottest was 2016 – and the hottest non–El Niño year ever. In the first nine months of the year, temperatures were 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels and further increases are inevitable – the most ambitious target included in the Paris Agreement envisages increases only to 1.5°C.

Average changes are giving rise to localized extremes: during 2017, record high temperatures were experienced from parts of southern Europe to eastern and southern Africa, South America, and parts of Russia and China. California had its hottest summer ever and by the end of November, wildfire burn across the United States was at least 46% above the 10-year average, and was continuing into December. Chile had its most extensive wildfires ever – eight times the long-run average – while in Portugal more than 100 wildfire-related deaths were recorded.

Rising temperatures and more frequent heatwaves will disrupt agricultural systems that are already strained. The prevalence of monoculture production heightens vulnerability to catastrophic breakdowns in the food system – more than 75% of the world’s food comes from just 12 plants and five animal species, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and it is estimated that there is now a one-in-twenty chance per decade that heat, drought, and flood events will cause a simultaneous failure of maize production in the world’s two main growers, China and the United States. This would cause widespread famine and hardship.

Fears of “ecological Armageddon” are being raised by a collapse in populations of insects that are critical to food systems: researchers in Germany found falls in such populations of more than 75% over 27 years. More broadly, biodiversity loss is now occurring at mass-extinction rates. The populations of vertebrate species declined by an estimated 58% between 1970 and 2012.

Globally, the primary driver of biodiversity loss is the human destruction of habitats including forests – which are home to approximately 80% of the world’s land-based animals, plants, and insects – for farming, mining, infrastructure development and oil and gas production. A record 29.7 million hectares of tree cover was lost in 2016 – an area about the size of New Zealand. This loss was about 50 percent higher than 2015. As much as 80% of the deforestation in Amazon countries is accounted for by cattle ranching, suggesting that pressures on environmental and agricultural systems will intensify as the global population increases, pushing up demand for meat.

Pollution moved further to the fore as a problem in 2017: indoor and outdoor air pollution are together responsible for more than one tenth of all deaths globally each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). More than 90% of the world’s population live in areas with levels of air pollution that exceed WHO guidelines. Deaths are overwhelmingly concentrated in low- and middle-income countries, where health problems caused by pollution exacerbate strains on already stretched health systems and public finances. In November 2017, a public health emergency was declared in Delhi when air pollution reached more than 11 times the WHO guideline levels. Urban air pollution is likely to worsen, as migration and demographic trends drive the creation of more megacities.

Soil and water pollution cause about half again as many deaths, according to findings published in October 2017 by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health. The Commission estimates the overall annual cost of pollution to the global economy at US$4.6 trillion, equivalent to around 6.2% of output.

Many of the associated risks to health are still not well understood. Research suggests, for example, that the huge volume of plastic waste in the world’s water – approximately 8 million more tons every year – is finding its way into humans. People eating seafood could be ingesting up to 11,000 pieces of micro-plastic every year. Microplastic fibres are found in 83% of the world’s tap water. One concern is that these micro-fibres could bind with compounds containing toxic pesticides or metals, providing these toxins with a route into the body.

The growing urgency of acting to halt climate change was demonstrated in 2017 with the news that emissions of CO2 had risen for the first time in four years, bringing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to 403 parts per million, compared with a preindustrial baseline of 280 parts per million. The increase in emissions last year was partly a result of developments in China, where the heatwaves mentioned above led to a 6.3% increase in energy consumption, and extreme drought in the north of the country led to a switch from hydro to coal-fired power generation.

There are reasons to expect further upward pressure on CO2 concentrations in the future. Having absorbed 93% of the increase in global temperatures between 1971 and 2010, the world’s oceans continue to get warmer and studies suggest that their capacity to absorb CO2 may be declining. Research also suggests that tropical forests are now releasing rather than absorbing carbon dioxide.

The risk that political factors might disrupt efforts to mitigate climate change was highlighted last year when President Trump announced plans to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. However, several other major economies – notably China – reaffirmed their support of the Paris Agreement during 2017. In addition, many US businesses, cities and states have pledged to help deliver on the country’s emissions reduction targets. This kind of network of subnational and public-private collaboration may become an increasingly important means of countering climate change and other environmental risks, particularly at a time when nation-state unilateralism appears to be ascendant.

In addition to meeting the immediate environmental challenges that we face, we also need to focus more acutely on the potential economic and societal risks that may arise as transition to a low-carbon and environmentally secure world accelerates. Moves towards financial disclosures to quantify the transition risks that businesses face have been accelerating, as has the idea of fossil-fuel divestment. For example, in November 2017 the managers of Norway’s sovereign wealth fund recommended divesting from oil and gas shares, and in December the World Bank announced a moratorium after 2019 on financing upstream oil and gas-related investments.

The potential spillover effects of climate-related transition will be more far-reaching than its effect on financial disclosure norms. For example, dramatic changes in the way energy is produced are likely to trigger large-scale labour-market disruptions. Structural economic changes in affected countries and regions could also stoke societal and geopolitical risks.

There is no scope for complacency about the sufficiency of global efforts to deal with climate change and the continued degradation of the global environmental commons. Equally, however, it is time to prepare for the structural challenges and changes that lie ahead as those efforts gather pace.”


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  1. m. tet

    Climate change, mass extinctions, rainforest destruction, air, land and ocean pollution, habitat loss, etc, etc etc.
    All of these problems are symptoms of a global pandemic with one common denominator.
    Are the seeds of our destruction.

  2. Kyran

    “If they won’t believe the scientists, perhaps the economists can convince them.”
    As all are now aware, our government doesn’t ‘do’ facts. Evidence, even when presented as daily reality rather than informed supposition, has no place in their odd little world. There was an old maxim, if you put 100 economists in a room, you will likely get 101 opinions. Perhaps they might trust the advice of actuaries?
    Decades ago, the insurance sector, globally, were factoring in the cost of climate change and who would pay for it. If you search on ‘Insurance industry climate change reaction’, there are pages of results. There is this little pearl from 2015, which already detailed how insurers were de-investing from fossil fuel industries and looking at mitigation proposals, particularly in the re-insurance areas.

    The Insurance Industry Responds to Climate Change Risk

    A couple of other articles are worth a look if you have the time.


    Climate change and insurance – Expert Reaction

    The ‘ClimateWise’ initiative organised through Cambridge University (linked in the Guardian article) has become one of many think tanks to address the financial as well as societal transformations that will be required to address not just the increasing costs of events, but the increasing frequency.


    This is not to associate any nobility with the insurance industry. Here in Australia they are frequently criticized for legal chicanery, aka weasel words, in limiting their exposure for costs of events through policy exclusions. The differentiation of water damage by the source of the water, rather than the nature or extent of the damage, is legendary. Insurance companies in Australia are at the forefront of lobbying, particularly through local councils, for preventative infrastructure, paid for by the council, to reduce resultant costs of major events. They are at the forefront of promoting declarations of ‘natural disaster’ (previously known as the act of god exclusion) to access funding of their losses through the public purse, whilst retaining the premiums.

    “The populations of vertebrate species declined by an estimated 58% between 1970 and 2012.”
    If any studies are done to establish if there is any correlation between this and geographic regions, they may be informative. My suspicion is the loss of vertebrae will be associated with political centres, like Canberra, on a global basis. The loss of political vertebrate species is likely at 100% by now.
    The climate is just one of the many examples of progress (however glacial) being made in spite of the government, not because of the environment. Thank you Ms Lee. Take care

  3. Phil

    Craig Kelly, that fat amoeba heading the anti-science clique in the Morrison theocracy, should be indicted.

  4. Keith Antonysen


    Other people provide their proper names here when making comments why don’t you?
    Nobody has stated that climate change has not occurred in the past.
    Your graph conveniently only shows till 2000. A lot has happened since.
    A question .. why do deniers of anthropogenic climate change no longer use 1998 as a datum point?

    There is a denier site with the initials NT that has claimed numerous studies state that it is the sun which is causing climate change. That site has been reviewed and the studies claimed to support sun activity, actually make it clear that anthropogenic climate change is happening. Your graph is meaningless without a reference as to where it has come from. Go to the science rather than accept somebody esle’s interpretation

    In relation to anthropogenic climate change temperatures from the whole planet are taken into account, there are regional variations. For example, the East Coast of the US has had some very cold spans, these have been offset by temperatures elsewhere in the US.

    What was the temperature of Baffen Island, while Greenland was somewhat warmer. The Barnes Ice Cap on Baffen Island puts a big dent in your graph, that has been researched later than what your graph presents.

    I’ve seen too many doctored graphs and references to be taken in by your graph .. it proves nothing. Only those who believe in conspiracy theories are likely to accept your graph. Much more information is required, where it has come from .. the complete reference.

    Notice how the reference provided gives citations to other research .. it describes greenhouse gas impact on Earth 252 million years ago:


    Once more an excellent article, thanks Kaye.

  5. guest

    Surfeagle, to tell us that there has been climate change before tells us nothing.

    If you were to go to the police to report an accident and you simply told them it was an accident and you said there have been accidents before, the police would tell you to give details about the accident you were involved in – not to try to distract from the current situation.

    Tony Eggleton (2013) tells us that the current rise of one degree C in the past 60 years is 20 times faster than any previous sustained rate of temperature rise.((p133)

    Another trick is to not tell the whole story. Economist Judith Sloan, writing in The Australian (Nov 10-11), tells us there is no increase in the number of violent weather events – but even if that is true it says nothing about the increased power of those events.

    Sloan also says it would be very expensive to reduce carbon emissions. So I ask her – and other deniers – what would be the cost of cooking the planet?

  6. Kaye Lee

    Another person’s response to the Harris-Mann drawing…

    The TV Weathermen vs the Scientists

    It appears the global warming debate is between the scientific community and the TV weather forecasters, a group of TV personalities without scientific training are taking on a group of scientists with Ph.Ds. and supercomputers. Who should you believe?

    Considering this divide, there are some obvious questions that can be asked about the Harris-Mann chart.

    Harris and Mann give no indication where they got their data? Clearly they have meteorological records, but these records go back no more than a few hundred years at the most. How did they estimate temperatures over a 4,500 year period?

    When scientists publish temperature records, they clearly state how they collected their data. Before publication, scientific papers are reviewed by their peers as being an appropriate contribution to the scientific community. TV weather forecasters follow no such review process.

    There’s a curious lack of actual temperatures on the Harris-Mann chart. The terms warmer, much warmer, cold, and much colder are incredibly vague. When scientists publish temperature records, they provide temperatures.

    Returning to Jason’s question, “How do you explain the warming that occurred 7000+ years ago before the glacier over ran those trees?” It would appear from the Harris-Mann chart that there were long periods of warm temperatures that should have melted the glacier’s ice long before now. According to the Harris-Mann chart, there were four periods of warm temperatures peaking in 2200 B.C., 1100 B.C., A.D. 250 and A.D. 1300. Why didn’t the glaciers melt then and expose the trees?

    Why 4 B.C. for the birth of Christ?

  7. Kaye Lee


    The article is just a direct quote from the WEF Global Risks paper. They can’t be dismissed as a left-wing source and they put it so well I thought their words were worth sharing. They provide sources for all their figures. They highlighted four concerns: (1) persistent inequality and unfairness, (2) domestic and international political tensions, (3) environmental dangers and (4) cyber vulnerabilities.

    The paper is produced every January and makes for interesting reading as the business world tries to anticipate risk.

  8. Michael Taylor

    Carol and I were on the Orkney Islands in September. The Orkneys would have to be one of the windiest places on the planet. The islanders put the wind to use.

    The islands currently produce 103% of their power needs from wind and solar, and they are also experimenting with wave and tidal energy.

    They have been ‘exporting’ electricity since 2013.

    Who said it can’t be done?

  9. Kronomex

    On a side note, sort of, and this may put some people offside but; f*ck the “stars and celebrities” and the loss of their mansions!


    My sympathies lie with the little unknown people who don’t have millions of dollars stashed in banks and offshore tax dodges to rebuild and start over.

  10. guest

    Leaving out sources is a common ploy for deniers because there are no sources in so many cases, just home-spun opinions. John Christy of the University of Alabama is reluctant to reveal his sources. His comments are basically denials with no substance. Yet people want to believe him because its suits their ideology and self interests. We might wonder if people like Murdoch are just protecting their own self-interests in fossil fuels.

    In The Australian we are fed denial by such scribblers as Nick Cater, who relies on few Climate Change facts as possible. Today he is making some comparison between coal and alcohol, because, he claims, people need both. In the USA Prohibition failed because people needed alcohol and were willing to pay for it. So, coal prices have risen because people need coal and are willing to pay for it.

    He tells us people in India miss out on electricity because of lack of coal. What he omits to say is that there is an increasing use of solar for lighting and for cooking in India. Coal-fired electricity is too expensive.

    He blames to use of renewables for the demise of coal-fired power stations in Oz – ignoring the fact that the coal-fired power stations are ageing and are being taken out of commission.

    Also. it is notable that scientists are telling us that carbon emissions are not good for us, neither is the consumption of alcohol. So Cater is caught up in a double bind. So what should we do? Cook the planet with carbon emissions? Or kill ourselves with alcohol? Or should we do neither?

    Perhaps both actions are highly desirable because there is at present profit in both – and Cater regards profit as highly desirable. But let us not hold our collective breaths for too long. If we cannot see that weather events are damaging the planet and people are dying from the effects of drugs including alcohol, we could well be in big trouble.

  11. Kaye Lee

    Nick Cater is a fool….

    Pollution from thermal, or coal-fired, power plants killed about 115,000 Indians and caused an economic loss of $4.6 billion (Rs 29,500 crore), according to the 2017 Economic Survey.


    The former secretary of India’s ministry of power, EAS Sarma, said “In the rural areas of India, many remote villages are beyond the reach of the electricity grid. There are also many families in electrified villages who cannot pay for expensive electricity.

    Studies have shown that when a village is more than 5km from the grid, the cost of supplying electricity from solar and other off-grid solutions is far below the costs of supplying from conventional sources such as coal.

    This is due to the high cost of building out the poles and wires to provide access to coal electricity and the technical losses involved in transmitting and distributing electricity to the consumers.

    In the urban areas, in addition to affordability, the constraints on the poor accessing coal power include the absence of firm ownership rights to the houses in which the families reside and the unsafe condition of the houses itself.

    It is therefore simplistic and simply inaccurate to assume that new electricity generation capacity added to the grid will automatically reduce electricity deprivation among the poor.”


  12. Diannaart

    Free Speech?

    A British supermarket chain’s touching Christmas advertising campaign has been ruled too “political” for broadcast.

    The Iceland supermarket ad, which highlights the destruction of rainforests for palm oil production, was originally created for Greenpeace.

    Iceland, which has a partnership with Greenpeace, was given permission to place its logo on the commercial and run it as part of the store’s Christmas campaign.

    Watch the “offending” ad below:

  13. totaram

    Kaye Lee: Nick Cater is not a “fool” as you very generously put it. He is a paid propagandist and makes a very good living out of regularly writing the kind of stuff you have alluded to. He is paid to somehow make the case that “coal is good for humanity” and any fears about climate change are misplaced. He does this regularly, day after day and this earns him a nice living. Please check out how he gets paid.

  14. Kaye Lee

    The Department of Finance gives money to the Menzies Centre too.

    “Of the $330,000 income Menzies disclosed to the AEC in 2014-15, about $240,000 came from Finance. The remainder came from Google and businessman Paul Espie, one of the centre’s directors.”

    He also gets paid by the Australian and the Spectator.

    “Cater’s shoddy journalism forced The Spectator magazine to cough up $573,000 in costs and damages to settle a defamation action [in the Grantham floods case].”

  15. guest

    Totaram, I think any attempted comparison between world-wide climate change action and prohibition of alcohol in the USA as Cater tries to do is a sure sign of poor journalism, not to be taken seriously except for the fact that the longer we procrastinate, the harder it will be to reduce the emissions and the greater the destruction we already see at work in the world. Cater is part of this obfuscation and muddying of the carbon problem. Unfortunately there are people willing to pay big dollars for such journalistic scribble in an attempt to protect their own interests.

    Meanwhile, Chris Mitchell will try to tell us that the Murdoch media agreed a decade ago that climate change is real, but that propaganda outlet has done nothing since to affirm that claim. They say that they publish “For the informed Australian”. Yes, really!

  16. Matters Not

    The Menzies Research Centre is interesting because, while partially funded by the federal government, it also makes large donations to the Liberal Party. It is used by the Liberal Party to funnel donations, since donations to the Centre are tax-deductible. Labor benefits from a similar arrangement with the Chifley Research Centre as does the Greens and the Nationals.

    John Roskam (of IPA fame) and Julian Lesser (Liberal MP) have been Executive Directors like Nick Cater.

    But give Nick a sympathetic break, wife Rebecca sucks lemons as well while also working for the Ramsay foundation. Together they can kill any celebration within minutes.

  17. Miriam English

    Cities appear to exacerbate pollution, but in fact they deliver more bang for buck in terms of efficiency and reducing pollution. We need to encourage people to move into cities to lessen the strain on countryside. Pollution is more obvious in cities, but that also provides pressure to cut it. The concentration of people in cities improves efficiency of distribution for many things: electricity, food, and other goods. Living in cities also helps people to feel nostalgic about wildlife; it raises pressure to save the remaining species.

    Climate denialists are thankfully a vanishing breed. The idiot “surfeagle” is either a paid minion or a half-witted dupe. They should always be met by a barrage of facts and good sense. I’m proud of the folks here.

    With most people understanding the danger of human-driven climate catastrophe, it makes me wonder why so many in government are denialists… well, not really… I’m pretty sure I know why. They’ve either been bought off, or they’re too stupid to understand anything beyond what the fossil fuel lobbyists tell them. In either case they I personally think they deserve prison terms — for corruption and for not doing their job, so taking money (their wages) fraudulently.

  18. Diannaart


    Greed is always accompanied by its retard sibling, Stupidity.

    About cities, have to think that through; Melbourne and Sydney are choking thanks to poor management.

    I’m for sustainable populations – less breeding but more immigration.

  19. Kaye Lee

    There are pros and cons to cities (obviously). I do think we will have to facilitate decentralisation at some point. A decent NBN, good mobile phone coverage, and a high speed rail might help with that. I also think, while big agribusinesses might be more productive, small-scale farming would be more sustainable. Cities struggle to find a sense of community – some areas do it better than others but it’s becoming less common for people to know their neighbours and that has consequences.

    I would like to see real ideas about invigorating our country areas. I would also like to see a lot more thought put into waste management, reusing and recycling.

  20. Miriam English

    Kaye, lately, each time a stop for a snack or a rest I’ve been watching another in a series of videos by Isaac Arthur. He is an astonishing source of information. Coincidentally, tonight I watched this:


    In it he discusses giant buildings that not only house people, but an ecology to support them too. As usual he is a veritable firehose of information — the knowledge gushes out of him at a great rate. He has a slight speech impediment that makes it impossible for him to pronounce the letter “r” (like Elmer Fudd: “You wascally wabbit”) so it helps to turn on subtitles.

    Some of the info is a little difficult to digest without having watched some of his previous videos, but most of this episode stands alone pretty well. He refers briefly to the the most crucial limitation being the ability to dissipate heat. That was a surprise to me. He touched on this more in some earlier videos when talking about limitations of large constructions.

    Most people tend to think of large buildings rising up high. I prefer to think of them digging down deep; that way they leave the surface to be occupied by forest, parkland, solar farms, or whatever.

    He covers an awful lot, including what would be optimal population numbers and concentrations, with quite surprising results.

    I know this vision is a long way off in completed realisation, but it could easily be begun right now, especially the underground version.

  21. Miriam English

    Diannaart, true. Here is quote that neatly explains that connection:

    It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.
    — Upton Sinclair

  22. helvityni

    Matters Not, why can’t Nick and Becky share just ONE lemon at the breakfast time; two pieces of the sour fruit first thing in the morning is far TOO much….

    What about a calming cup of a Chamomile tea instead….?

  23. Matters Not

    helvityni, was not familiar with Chamomile tea so had to Google same. Now know that the tea under discussion can cause – Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis); Contact dermatitis/skin reactions; Eye irritation (when applied near the eyes); Hypersensitivity reactions; and Vomiting (when taken in large amounts).

    Be assured I just want to argue with them – not bloody kill them. LOL.

  24. Miriam English

    Matters Not, my my my… you have led a sheltered life. 🙂 I dislike pretty-much all teas and herbal infusions, but have to admit I do like chamomile tea… on the very rare occasion someone offers me a cup of it. There’s something very soothing about it. I think it’s mostly the scent rather than any direct biochemical effect on the nervous system.

    You’d have to be very unfortunate to experience reactions to chamomile, but I guess some of us have somehow had their immune systems triggered by weird things nowadays. I have somehow become allergic to the adhesive in some kinds of sticking plasters. As far as I know that, and only that, which is okay, I can happily live without them. But pity the poor soul who is allergic to sweet, fragrant chamomile. I’d never heard of anybody having a reaction to it. I learn something new every day. 🙂

  25. Diannaart

    Love chamomile, just the fragrance is soothing.

    Matters Not; an argument looking for an opportunity.

  26. Shaun Newman

    The 68 billionaires (mostly yanks) who are raping the globe’s environment and who own 60% of Earth’s economy need to be stopped, and the only way I can see it being stopped is by revolution, the queen’s company rio tinto is one of the main offenders.

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