Nov 30, 2014 10:22 PM EST
Education May Be Key to Climate Adaptation
Education makes people less vulnerable to natural disasters such as floods, landslides, and storms that are expected to intensify with climate change, according to a recent study.
Given that some climate change is already unavoidable -- as just confirmed by the new IPCC report--investing in empowerment through universal education should be an essential element in climate change adaptation efforts, which so far focus mostly in engineering projects.
Researchers from International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) found that in many cases --particularly where the exact consequences of climate change are still unclear -- educational expansion could be a better investment in protecting people from the impacts than conventional investments such as building sea walls, dams, irrigation systems, and other infrastructure.
"Our research shows that education is more important than GDP in reducing mortality from natural disasters. We also demonstrated that under rapid development and educational expansion across the globe, disaster fatalities will be reduced substantially," IIASA researcher Raya Muttarak said in a statement.
Climate models project that extreme weather events such as hurricanes are likely to increase with climate change. And with rising sea levels, floods will become a greater danger in low-lying coastal areas. Researchers from IIASA's World Population Program launched a major research project to explore the connections between fatality rates in such disasters, education levels, and other potential factors that could contribute to resilience such as wealth and health.
Previous research had shown that education plays a major role in development, including poverty alleviation and economic growth.
"[In regard to climate change adaption], Education directly improves knowledge, the ability to understand and process information, and risk perception. It also indirectly enhances socioeconomic status and social capital. These are qualities and skills useful for surviving and coping with disasters," Muttarak said.
The new study shows that education is the key factor in enhancing adaptive capacity to already unavoidable climate change. This insight is also reflected in the new generation of IPCC-related scenarios, the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) which were developed by IIASA researchers in collaboration with other leading global change research institutes to jointly capture different future socioeconomic challenges for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Using these SSPs, the new study illustrates how alternative future trajectories in education lead to greatly differing numbers of expected deaths due to climate change.
"Investment in human capital not only empowers people to achieve desirable socioeconomic outcomes, but it also has a protective function against diverse impacts climate change may have over the coming decades," researcher Erich Striessnig said in a statement.
With 100 billion dollars currently pledged per year for climate funding through the Green Climate Fund, the researchers say it is vital to examine where the money would have the greatest impact.
"We need to think about how to best allocate the funds raised for the adaptation to future climate change," Striessnig said. "Currently many of these funds are destined to support less flexible engineering projects or agricultural strategies. Such efforts are also vitally important, but in light of the major uncertainties about climate change impacts, it makes sense to invest some of the funds in mechanisms that will empower people to flexibly adapt to whatever changes might occur."
The findings are detailed in the journal Science.
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