Weekly briefing: Outer space solutions to climate change and global warming

A weekly round-up of relevant IEP data providing insight into the world around us.

Friday, 23 August 2019: Scientists are looking for solutions to climate change in outer space. As international efforts to curb carbon emissions have fallen short, global problem-solvers are searching beyond Earth’s atmosphere for answers. Space-based solar power stations could be the new frontier. Plans to develop orbital solar panels continually facing the sun would ensure a stream of uninterrupted solar energy supply to Earth. A more controversial idea known as solar geoengineering proposes to artificially control the global temperature by spreading tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the earth’s stratosphere. Notably, space already plays a critical role in climate change. Satellites operated by NASA, national environment agencies, and private firms collect extensive environmental data and images of Earth. A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report estimated that the Earth’s surface temperature could warm a further 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2052, potentially leading to rising land and sea temperatures in most of the world, sea level rises, extreme temperatures in places where people live, alongside extreme rainfall and drought.

Climate change and peace

The impacts of fluctuating climate conditions on societal stability and its potential to lead to violent conflict is of growing importance. The effects of climate shocks on factors such as resource scarcity, livelihood security and displacement can greatly increase the risk of future violent conflict, even when climate change does not directly cause conflict.

An estimated 971 million people live in areas with high or very high exposure to climate hazards, putting them at risk for both extreme weather events and breakdowns in peacefulness in the coming decades.

Of this number, 41 per cent reside in countries with low levels of peacefulness, while 22 per cent are in countries with high levels of peace.

The Asia-Pacific and South Asia regions collectively house twice as many people in high exposure climate zones as all other regions.

South Asia has the highest risk to natural hazards, both in terms of overall risk and risk to single climate hazards. While North America has the second highest average natural hazard risk, it also has the highest coping capacity of all regions.

Sub-Saharan Africa stands out due to its lack of coping capacity, while Europe has the lowest natural hazard risk score and the second highest coping capacity.

The effects of climate change pose a major challenge to peacefulness in the coming decade. Environmental risks of climate change and resource scarcity had the highest likelihood and impact, out of five risk categories including economic, geopolitical, societal, technological and environmental threats, as estimated by the World Economic Forum.