Links between Pandemics, biodiversity, and climate change

The experts of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services  (IPBES) released their Report of an earlier workshop on October 29,  warning that “the risk of pandemics is increasing rapidly, with more than five new diseases emerging in people every year, any one of which could potentially spark a pandemic.”  The problem, as stated in the report: “The majority (70%) of emerging diseases (e.g. Ebola, Zika, Nipah encephalitis), and almost all known pandemics (e.g. influenza, HIV/AIDS, COVID-19), are zoonoses – i.e. are caused by microbes of animal origin. These microbes ‘spill over’ due to contact among wildlife, livestock, and people……Pandemics have their origins in diverse microbes carried by animal reservoirs, but their emergence is entirely driven by human activities. The underlying causes of pandemics are the same global environmental changes that drive biodiversity loss and climate change. These include land-use change, agricultural expansion and intensification, and wildlife trade and consumption. These drivers of change bring wildlife, livestock, and people into closer contact, allowing animal microbes to move into people and lead to infections, sometimes outbreaks, and more rarely into true pandemics that spread through road networks, urban centres and global travel and trade routes.”

Prevention 100 times cheaper than reactive policies

The IPBES Report asserts that pandemics are not inevitable. The authors advocate a dramatic shift in policy to prevention, rather than the current reactive scramble to treat diseases through vaccines etc. – an approach which brings enormous human suffering, and economic costs. The report estimate the economic costs of the reactive approach at “ likely more than a trillion dollars in economic damages annually.”  – likely 100 times the costs of prevention.

Given that the IPBES is an intergovernmental body linked to the United Nations, it is perhaps not surprising that one of their key recommendations is to establish a high-level intergovernmental council on pandemic prevention, which would provide decision-makers with scientific research,  economic impact estimates, and a global monitoring mechanism. They also suggest an international accord or agreement with mutually agreed upon targets. Finally, they suggest specific measures, such as taxes or levies on meat consumption, which would impact consumption patterns, and reduce the globalized agricultural expansion and trade that have led to pandemics.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was established in 2012, with 137 member states as of 2020 (including Canada and the U.S.) . In 2019, the IPBES published a landmark report,  Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services .  A  key IPBES scientist, Cambridge Professor Partha Dasgupta,  was named by the government of the United Kingdom to lead an Independent Review on the Economics of Biodiversity, in preparation for the 15th UN Biodiversity Conference , now postponed till May 2021.  The Dasgupta Review Interim Report was published in April 2020.  (discussed in  “Halt destruction of nature or suffer even worse pandemics, say world’s top scientists”   in The Guardian (April 2020) .  

Also in 2020, the 13th annual edition of the Living Planet Report  was published by the WWF, linking pandemics to ecosystems, and reiterating the message that “unsustainable human activity is pushing the planet’s natural systems that support life on Earth to the edge.” In addition to compiling data about the loss of natural species, the report offers nature-based solutions to prevent ecological collapse and to mitigate climate change – especially in the companion report, Too Hot To Handle: A Deep Dive into Biodiversity in a Warming World .  

San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank commissions studies of climate change risks to the economy, impacts on labour productivity

In “Scared Central Banks Face Up to Threats From Climate Change”  (Sept. 23) , Bloomberg News reported that “Most major central banks — with the exception of the U.S. Federal Reserve — are joining forces to promote sustainable growth, after realizing that climate change threatens economic output and could even sow the seeds of a financial crisis.”  Now it appears that even the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, or at least one of its components, the San Francisco Fed., is catching up to the rest of the world. Climate Change and the Federal Reserve  drew attention when it was published by the San Francisco Fed in March 2019,  and a special climate change-themed issue of the newsletter, Community Development and Innovation Review  was published by the San Francisco Fed in October , highlighting independent economic analysis it had commissioned.  The New York Times summarizes that research in  “Bank Regulators Present a Dire Warning of Financial Risks From Climate Change ”.

The economic research was also highlighted  in a conference on November 8. Host Mary Daly, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, introduced the event with  a speech entitled, “Why Climate Change Matters to Us ” .  Two highlighted conference papers: “Climate change: Macroeconomic impact and implications for monetary policy ” presented  by Sandra Batten from the Bank of England, which explains why central banks care about climate change, and includes the warning that “for each degree the temperature rises above a daily average temperature of 59°F, productivity declines by 1.7%”.   In “Long-Term Macroeconomic Effects of Climate Change: A Cross-Country Analysis “, six academics from the U.S., U.K. and Taiwan modelled the links between  historical levels of temperature and precipitation and changes in labour productivity. They conclude that global GDP per capita could fall 7% by 2100 in the absence of climate change mitigation effects, but that loss could be reduced to 1% by conforming to the Paris Agreement.

Of related interest:  SHARE Canada (Shareholder Association for Research and Education) summarizes the position of the major Canadian banks in an October 10 blog post “Responsible Banking – Part 2: Aligning finance with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement .”

“Business as usual” could lead to 13% loss in growth for the Canadian economy.

According to a study published in August by both the National Bureau of Economic Research and by  U.K.’s Cambridge University Institute for New Economic Thinking,      the overall the global economy could shrink by 7% unless the world’s nations meet the Paris Agreement targets for GHG emissions reductions. Long-Term Macroeconomic Effects of Climate Change: A Cross-Country Analysis” analyses data from 174 countries over the years 1960 to 2014 to model changes in output growth related to temperature and precipitation. The result: “Our counterfactual analysis suggests that a persistent increase in average global temperature by 0.04°C per year, in the absence of mitigation policies, reduces world real GDP per capita by 7.22 percent by 2100. On the other hand, abiding by the Paris Agreement, thereby limiting the temperature increase to 0.01°C per annum, reduces the loss substantially to 1.07 percent.”

The effects differ widely across countries. For Canada, the analysis finds that a “business as usual” scenario could result in a 13% loss in growth for the Canadian economy.     A summary for non-economists from the Climate News Network  quotes one of the authors of the study: “The idea that rich, temperate nations are economically immune to climate change, or could even double or triple their wealth as a result, just seems implausible.”

 

Job creation impacts of Energy Efficiency Programs: Best practices for measurement

A September 2015 report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy reviews the current methodologies used in studying the job creation impacts of energy efficiency programs, with a view to establishing best practice and a model framework for future analyses. Verifying Energy Efficiency Job Creation: Current Practices and Recommendations classifies, explains, and compares the methodologies currently in use in North America, as either top-down (modelling) or bottom-up (head-count). It then examines several exemplary studies, including two from Canada: the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) study of its Industrial Accelerator Program (IAP), a financial incentive and resource acquisition program started in 2010, and a study of Efficiency Nova Scotia, which measured the economic impact (in employment, payroll, and GDP) of organizations in the province’s energy efficiency sector. 

 

Canadian Cities Rank High in Climate Change Adaptation – and Some Examples

A newly released survey conducted by the researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology investigates the progress in climate adaptation planning in 468 cities worldwide – 298 of which were in the U.S., 26 were in Canada. Results show that 92% of Canadian cities are pursuing adaptation planning, compared to 68% worldwide, and 59% in the U.S.. The top ranked impacts identified by cities that conducted assessments were: increased stormwater runoff (72%), changes in electricity demand (42%), loss of natural systems (39%), and coastal erosion (36%). Other important issues were loss of economic revenue, drought, and solid waste management. The report, Progress and Challenges in Urban Adaptation Planning: Results of a Global Survey is available at: http://www.icleiusa.org/action-center/learn-from-others/progress-and-challenges-in-urban-climate-adaptation-planning-results-of-a-global-survey, and summarized at: http://www.icleiusa.org/blog/survey_us_cities_report_increase_in_climate_impacts_lag_in_adaptation_planningworldwide-progress-on-urban-climate-adaptation-planning. For a policy perspective, read the David Suzuki blog “Canada’s Success depends on Municipal Infrastructure Investments” (March 13) at: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2014/03/canadas-success-depends-on-municipal-infrastructure-investments/. For a more anecdotal report which names and describes some innovative Canadian municipalities, see “Five Canadian Communities Fighting Climate Change That You’ve Probably Never Heard of Before” from the DeSmog Blog at: http://www.desmog.ca/2014/04/03/five-canadian-communities-fighting-climate-change-you-ve-probably-never-heard-of-before. It describes Dawson Creek, B.C.; Guelph, Ontario; Varennes, Quebec; T’Sou-ke First Nation, B.C.; and Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. An overview of the Upwind-Downwind Conference of municipalities in Hamilton in March, and a summary of Hamilton’s climate action initiatives, appears in “Ontario Municipalities take Action on Air Quality and Climate Change” at: http://www.alternativesjournal.ca/community/blogs/current-events/ontario-municipalities-take-action-air-quality-and-climate-change.

Industry Estimates of the Economic Impact of the Oil Sands

From the industry point of view, a study by consultants IHS CERA was published in January reporting focus group discussions by the oil sands multinationals in Calgary in summer 2013. The report projects that the oil sands’ contribution to Canadian GDP could reach $171 billion in 2025, with total contribution to employment in Canada reaching 753,000 jobs by 2025.

See Oil Sands Economic Benefits: Today and in the Future (Jan. 2014) at: http://www.ihs.com/pdfs/OSD-2013-Economic-Benefits-Jan-2-2014.pdf.

Disputing Oil and Gas Industry Claims for Job Creation in the U.S. and in California

The Center for American Progress has taken issue with the claims made by the American Petroleum Institute (API) in its 2013 testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The API stated that the natural gas and oil industry supports 9.2 million U.S. jobs and accounts for 7.7 % of the U.S. economy, based on two studies which estimated direct, indirect, and induced job effects in the oil and gas industry. The studies were conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and commissioned by API. The Center for American Progress disputes these claims, basing their own analysis on Bureau of Labor Statistics data for employment in upstream activities (oil and gas extraction, well drilling, and operation support), and downstream activities (petroleum refining, product sales through dealers and gas stations, and pipeline construction and transportation). CAP did not include indirect jobs. CAP estimates that there are less than 2 million direct jobs in the oil and gas industry, and nearly 50% of those jobs occur in gas stations. Their analysis also shows that BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell have shed a net total of nearly 12,000 U.S. jobs since 2007.

Another U.S. research centre, NextGeneration, has waded into California’s political discussion about the Monterey Shale development by publishing a series of six articles. In one of these articles, Too Big to Believe, five prominent economists from California universities critique the methodology and results of an influential study published in March 2013, Powering California. Powering California, conducted at the University of Southern California and sponsored by Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), included optimistic and widely publicized estimates of an increase of 512,000 net new jobs by 2015 and 2.8 million net new jobs by 2020. Yet Too Big to Believe states: “Each of the economists said the study’s findings were unreliable and inflated. They cast doubt on its methodology, which did not base its estimates on any projections for oil production or capital investment in California oil; instead, the study’s authors said they extrapolated from the effects of economic growth in North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.”

In Keeping the Story Straight, the final article in the NextGeneration series, the results of Powering California are contrasted with two other economic impact studies done by industry-related organizations: one by IHS Consultants, and another commissioned by the Western States Petroleum Association and conducted by California State University at Fresno. In both cases, estimated job impacts were “negligible” or modest.

LINKS:

Big Oil, Small Jobs: A Look at the Oil Industry’s Dubious Job Claims is at the Center for American Progress at: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2014/01/22/82571/big-oil-small-jobs-a-look-at-the-oil-industrys-dubious-job-claims/
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Too Big to Believe: Top Economists Doubt California Oil Industry’s Jobs Figures at: http://thenextgeneration.org/blog/post/top-economists-doubt-california-oil-industrys-jobs-figures, and Keeping the Story Straight: Industry Reports at Odds in California Oil at: http://thenextgeneration.org/blog/post/industry-reports-at-odds-on-california-oil

Powering California: The Monterey Shale and California’s Economic Future is at: http://wms.communicationsinstitute.org/energy/powering-california-project/powering-california-the-monterey-shale-californias-economic-future/