Refugees: Is this the Future?

The predictions made by environmentalists are now coming true – but with a twist.  The large numbers of refugees arriving in Europe are coming now not primarily because of climate change or environmental deterioration, but because of the political and military situation in the Middle East.

There is arguably a connection.  The oil industry, a major driver of climate change, is also a major driver of Western foreign policy in the Middle East.  It also seems that water stress and shortages, made worse by climate change, are a key factor feeding discontent and conflict in Syria.

But there is another connection too.  This is the sense that the refugees currently coming to Europe, and those trying to get there, are simply a relatively small foretaste of the massive population movements which will be set off as climate change worsens, as there is every sign it will.

The Stern Report on ‘The Economics of Climate Change’ (2006) said: “The total number of people at risk of displacement or migration in developing countries is very large…  nearly 200 million people today live in coastal flood zones that are at risk … there are potentially between 30 to 200 million people at risk of temperature rises of 2 to 3 degrees C – rising to 250 to 550 million people with a 3 degree warming; and between 0.7 to 4.4 billion people who will experience growing water shortages with a temperature rise of 2 degrees C” (Cambridge University Press edition: p129).

How should the international community respond?  One interesting proposal – deserving of consideration at the Paris CoP – is for the question of migrants and refugees from the developing climate crisis to be included within the work governments are carrying out under the umbrella of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Without reopening the whole treaty, it is possible to add protocols.  A large proportion of what has been meaningful so far under the Convention has come about through the Kyoto Protocol.  Now perhaps there should be a protocol for climate refugees.  This would be mainly an arrangement between governments as to which countries should take in migrants forced to leave their own countries as a result of climate change, either organised in advance or in response to emergencies.  For example, Australia might agree to take in migrants from disappearing Pacific islands.  Governments might also want to co-ordinate their own internal plans, for example perhaps with Florida residents, vulnerable to sea level rise, moving to Texas, the centre of the US oil industry.

Such a protocol can simply be seen as part of the sensible planning for adaptation that it is obvious the world community needs to carry out.  Having failed to sufficiently limit carbon emissions, adaptation measures are increasingly coming to the fore.  Many of these measures – strengthening flood defences, updating drainage systems, and so on – are not particularly dramatic.  Dealing with large numbers of migrants, however, clearly will be – and in Europe we are already getting a sense of what that might be like.

Frank Biermann and Ingrid Boas wrote a useful article on this subject back in 2008.  It can be found at:

There have also been scholarly articles in various academic journals, and some discussion on websites.  But governments don’t yet appear to have this issue on their agendas.  They would prefer the problem to go away, and so they still delay taking action.  The longer we wait, of course, the worse the problem will eventually become, because there will have been a lack of serious planning sufficiently far in advance.

The documentation for the Paris CoP has been argued over for months, and officials would not take kindly to the sudden appearance of a proposal for a new protocol.  Probably the best that can be hoped for at this stage is endorsement of this proposal in the speeches in Paris by heads of government, and then some wording in the outcome documents to the effect that this is going to be worked on.

Then, after Paris, it can be added to the ‘to do’ lists for NGOs and members of parliaments  to press for urgent action, either on this protocol proposal or on something similar with the same objectives.  2016 may be the time for this to be successful, because in 2015 we have already had a glimpse of the future.


Victor Anderson



The Great Acceleration – Updated

Article by Victor Anderson, Green Economist

On the same day as the new updated Planetary Boundaries analysis was published, two further closely related new studies came out as well: one on the ‘Great Acceleration’, the other on the Anthropocene’. Planetary boundaries, the Great Acceleration, and the Anthropocene are all basically parts of the same picture.

The Great Acceleration paper has the same lead author, Will Steffen, as the Planetary Boundaries update. It was published in ‘The Anthropocene Review’ – a journal with the peculiarity that its publishers (Sage) don’t allow subscriptions, despite three issues have appeared so far, because they haven’t decided how much to charge!

Click here to read the rest of Victor Anderson’s article.

What’s new about the Planetary Boundaries update?

Written by Victor Anderson, Green Economist

A new version of the planetary boundaries analysis has just been published. Many of the authors are the same as those who wrote the initial articles in 2009. They haven’t changed the overall picture fundamentally, but they have tried to take into account recent science and many of the criticisms that the original analysis provoked.

It may be that in another 5 or 6 years, the analysis will shift again. For some people, that just shows how unreliable it all is. For others, it demonstrates a lack of dogmatism and a willing to take on board new evidence and ideas. So before looking at the specific changes which have just been made, it is important first to ask the question: what sort of analysis is this? How is it possible for anyone to rally round a picture of the world which is subject to change at any time?

Click here to read the rest of Victor Anderson’s article.

It’s Here: Planetary Boundaries 2.0

The highly anticipated updated concept of planetary boundaries has now been released by an international team of researchers in the Journal Science (16 January 2015). The new assessments and quantifications place climate change and the newly-termed “biosphere integrity” as core planetary boundaries – both of which have been crossed.

Alarmingly, a total of four of the nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed due to anthropogenic causes. Crossing any of the boundaries increases the risks to current and future societies of destabilising the Earth System, potentially through sudden and catastrophic changes.

Click here to read more…


Anthropocene: Journey of a Concept

‘The Anthropocene’ is a concept that has become central to the planetary boundaries discourse. In summary, it raises the alarm that we are moving out of the favourable conditions of the Holocene into a new geological epoch created entirely by the activities of mankind: the Anthropocene. And it looks set to be an era that will not prove quite as supportive of humanity’s growth, development, or even continued existence.

Yet where did this geological concept come from? And how has this concept, to use Victor Anderson’s phrase, “travelled such a long way in such a short time”? The ‘Anthropocene’ makes some very big claims; not least that the (relatively recent) changes in the Earth System are as significant as those geological epochs that have defined the development of our planet, and that these planetary changes stem from the activities of our species.

In an exclusive preview for the PBI, Victor Anderson has made available his chapter that explores the development of the concept of the Anthropocene in geology, through the social sciences, and finally – and arguably most importantly – its implications and uses in political discourse. He examines the reluctance of geologists versus the enthusiasm of social scientists to recognise the validity of the concept, and the evolutionary context that has dovetailed with the plantetary boundaries framework. An economist by profession, Anderson further questions whether the Anthropocene has potential to be a unifying concept with economic and other frameworks for human society and development.

An essential read: Victor Anderson Anthropocene: Journey of a Concept.

Black Friday Fever: It’s not only ‘consumer behaviour’ that needs addressing

2014 saw the biggest ‘Black Friday’ in the UK so far, the pre-Thanksgiving retail discount day import from the US. The phenomenon started to filter in around 2003, with some maintaining scepticism about the American tradition; this year, however, it effectively became a requirement for all major (and many smaller) retailers.

And what a Friday it was. Stores were forced to close, police were called to break up the crowds (in at least 16 Tescos around the country), fights broke out between the discount shoppers and injuries ensued. This Guardian article gives examples of the lengths shoppers went to in their desperation to nab bargains: a shopper buying a Dyson without even wanting one; another buying two of everything, unaware of the price but confident that they were all bargains. A comment from Michael Moran today on Twitter notes how many of the discount TVs bought in the Black Friday fever are now up for sale on eBay and attracting no bids.

Read more…


What system of governance would truly protect planetary resilience? Comments from the SRC MOOC

The Planetary Boundaries and Human Opportunities MOOC, hosted by the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the SDSN, is now into its second week (see here for PBI’s article on the MOOC).

What has been particularly interesting is the flourishing online community that has formed for sharing ideas on the state of our planet alongside the course. A thread launched by Cliff Krolick particularly stood out:

“What governance system will truly protect planetary resilience?”

A contribution from Ranjay Singh, echoed by contributors from Mongolia and Syria, highlighted that it has often been observed that systems and norms developed by indigenous communities are more sustainable than formal systems of governance. This idea that we require good quality local governance and civil participation to build cooperative and resilient communities emerged repeatedly in the discussion; but it was also highlighted importantly that global level problems cannot be solved by local governance alone.

Continue to read the PBI’s comments on the MOOC discussions on governance…


The implications of the ‘historic’ US-China deal

18th November 2014

Hot on the heels of the European Union’s pledge to cut total emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, the announcement on the 12th November of the climate agreement between China and the US – the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases – has been welcomed as “a historic milestone” and “a watershed moment for climate politics”. The praise, however, has been reserved for the political message rather than the unambitious climate commitments.

The PBI looks through the implications of the US-China deal, particularly for the 2015 UN climate negotiations in Paris…



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