This article was originally published in The Independent on 21 April 2022.
Unhampered access to satellite communication tools can serve as a systemic solution in reducing the economic impact of climate disasters
That climate change is the gravest existential threat that confronted mankind is an understatement. The upward trajectory in the prevalence of climate-related disasters has massively devastated the state of human life, with cities being submerged, properties being damaged, and livelihoods being displaced. The havoc caused by a changing climate becomes even more profound when measured in terms of the overall economic impact it caused, not just on account of massive property losses, but more so through the heavy toll on human mortality and morbidity.
Climate change as a systemic risk
The concept of systemic risk pertains to the breakdown of an entire system as opposed to the simple failure of individual parts. In finance, this represents a risk of cascading failure which creates a ripple effect that could bring about the collapse of a whole system. We have seen witnessed how this panned out in the 2008 financial crisis, wherein a seemingly isolated mortgage bubble led to the greatest recession of our generation.
In the same way, climate change is fast becoming a systemic risk that poses dire ramifications on the state of prevailing economic structures as we know it.
Already, the signs are there.
Various models backed up by science and data suggests 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 continues to grow at their historical pace, the average annual economic impact of natural disasters will almost double by 97 per cent, from USD199 billion in 2015-19 to a staggering USD390 billion in 2025-29. To put things in perspective, this will make climate-related disasters the same size as the world’s 37th largest economy (per 2021 IMF figures), corresponding to almost 0.5 per cent of global GDP.
Again, this is merely a conservative estimate. With the continued unpredictability of climate change, the economic damage resulting from disasters will rise exponentially. Apart from directly measurable effects, there are also significant social and cultural factors which further exacerbates the impact of climate disasters. Among others, these include labour productivity losses and displacement of families due to environmental migration.
Just as financial systemic risks may bring about the collapse of entire systems, climate change may trigger increasing disruptions in our normal routines that will forever alter the course of human existence.
Harnessing technology to control climate risks
Controlling systemic risks requires synchronised action from all stakeholders which stand to be affected. Fortunately for humankind, technology is one of the tools that could potentially be harnessed to respond to this existential threat.
Governments and the private sector alike have recognised that emerging innovations in communications could be leveraged as an enabling element to support climate change adaptability. An effective deployment of these tools has improved the responsiveness of states to combat climate emergencies, thus forestalling more severe economic losses both in their preparation phase and in their aftermath.
The outcomes that could play out as a result of differences in adapting to modern emergency communication tools have been mapped out by Access Partnership and its Fair Tech Institute in a whitepaper they recently released on the role of communications in disaster management. Accordingly, three scenarios are seen to emerge:
- Business as usual – this assumes that the status quo remains, with states making no significant change in their utilisation of existing communication systems.
- Connectivity divergence – this assumes that states take advantage of modern communication tools in responding to emergencies, but the level of development diverges across countries depending on their income levels.
- Connectivity revolution – this assumes an across-the-board adaptation of 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 word where connectivity revolution is achieved could translate to an estimated US$148 billion reduction in economic damage, including a significant decline in preventable lives lost and people affected from natural disasters from 2025-2029.
The vision that we should strive to achieve does not get any clearer than this.
Connectivity revolution as a systemic solution
That climate change amounts to a systemic risk means that 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 each and everyone on the planet to ensure our continued survival.
If we are truly to realise the potential of emerging emergency communication tools as a way to avert climate-related risks, it is imperative to bridge the existing divide in providing access to these technologies. Attaining full-scale connectivity revolution would not only drastically lessen the climate-related economic impact of disasters, but would also guarantee that no one is left behind in confronting this generational crisis.
To get more insights on how emerging communication tools can become effective life-saving and damaging-minimising solutions in the face of increasing climate-related disasters, check out the pioneering study conducted by Access Partnership here.
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