This article was originally published in Bloomberg on 19 May 2022.
Unhampered access to satellite communication tools can serve as a systemic solution to reducing the economic impact of climate disasters.
To say that climate change is the gravest existential threat to the planet is an understatement. The increased climate-related disasters are already a risk to human life, with cities being submerged, properties damaged and livelihoods displaced. The havoc caused by the changing climate appears even more profound when measured in terms of the overall economic impact including the heavy toll on human health and productivity.
In the same way, climate change is fast becoming a systemic risk that poses dire ramifications for prevailing economic structures. Already, the signs are there.
Various models backed up by science and data suggest that the economic impact of climate-induced disasters is expected to rise significantly in the coming decade. Assuming a conservative estimate that the cost of natural disasters will continue to grow at a historical pace, the average annual economic impact will double from $199 billion in 2015–2019 to a staggering $390 billion in 2025–2029. To put things in perspective, this will make climate-related disasters the same size as the world’s 37th-largest economy (per 2021 figures), or almost 0.5% of global GDP.
Again, this is merely a conservative estimate. Amid the continued effects and unpredictability of climate change, the economic damage resulting from climate-related disasters will rise exponentially. Apart from directly measurable effects, significant social and cultural factors further exacerbate the impact of climate disasters. Among others, these include labor productivity losses and environmental displacement and migration of families.
Just as systemic financial risks may bring about the collapse of entire economic systems, climate change may trigger disruptions in our normal routines that will forever alter the course of human existence.
Harnessing technology to control climate risks
Controlling systemic risks requires synchronized action from all stakeholders that stand to be affected. Fortunately for humankind, technology can potentially be harnessed to respond to this existential threat.
Governments and the private sector alike have recognized that emerging innovations in communications can be leveraged to support climate change adaptability. Effective deployment of these tools has improved the responsiveness of states to climate emergencies, thus forestalling more severe economic losses.
Various outcomes that could play out due to different levels of utilization of emergency communication tools have been mapped out by Access Partnership and its Fair Tech Institute in a whitepaper it recently released on the role of communications in disaster management. Three scenarios have been modeled:
- Business as usual: This assumes that the status quo remains, with states making no significant change in their utilization of existing communication systems.
- Connectivity divergence: This assumes that states take advantage of modern communication tools when responding to emergencies, but the level of development and adoption diverges across countries depending on income levels.
- Connectivity revolution: This assumes an across-the-board adoption of modern emergency communication systems in all countries, regardless of income.
Stark differences may result from how these scenarios pan out. On the one hand, maintaining the status quo runs the risk of significant disruptions to human life, which could further accelerate in the years to come. On the other hand, a utopian world where a connectivity revolution is achieved could translate to an estimated $148 billion reduction in economic damage, including a significant decline in lives lost and people affected by natural disasters from 2025 to 2029.
The vision that we should strive to achieve does not get any clearer than this.
Connectivity revolution as a systemic solution
Because climate change is a systemic risk, it is now the concern of everyone. Fundamental to humanity’s response to this threat is a recognition that climate action is not just the job of a select few, but a collaborative effort of everyone to ensure our planet’s continued survival.
If we are to truly realize the potential of emerging emergency communication tools to help avert climate-related risks, it is imperative to bridge the existing divide in access to these technologies. Attaining a full-scale connectivity revolution would not only drastically lessen the economic impact of climate-related disasters, but would also guarantee that no one is left behind in confronting this crisis.
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