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Nobel Prize in Economics 2018 reinforces the dire need of climate change mitigation

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With the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics being awarded to William D Nordhaus, Sterling Professor of Economics, Yale University, the scientific and environmental community has been vindicated that ignoring environmental concerns over climate change for short-term gains and profitability would spell economic ruin in the long run.

William D. Nordhaus is the pioneer of economic modeling of climate change and he has been awarded the Nobel Prize for “integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis”. He shares the award with Paul. M Romer who has been awarded for “integrating technological innovations into long-run economic analysis”.

Scientific community and environmentalists have been prescient in warning about environmental degradation and the rise in annual temperatures due to uncontrolled man-made global warming (2017 was the third consecutive hottest year in recorded history). But it was only at COP21 that sustainability and reduction of global temperature rise by more than 2 degree Celsius was enshrined as a goal.

When the US pulled out of COP 21, it was a big setback to the cause of climate change mitigation. Many environmental scientists said that the unanticipated move squandered years of progress in a single stroke. But with the 2018 Nobel prize in economics, impact of climate change is again expected to be at the center-stage of climate change discourse and reignite the fizzled enthusiasm and concern.

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Economic Modeling: A new approach

Nordhaus has a maverick approach towards combatting global warming. He believes that markets can mitigate climate change by implementing a tax on pollution. Since the year 1900, Carbon Dioxide emissions are growing steadily every year at more than 2.5% per year. In this scenario, he says that markets and industries should be incentivized for cutting carbon and there should be a carbon tax, just like there is a tax on goods and services. In 2012 Australia became the first country in the world to implement a carbon tax and focus on renewable energy and reduce per-capita carbon emission.

Nordhaus is the first person to design “simple but dynamic and quantitative models of the global economic-climate system, now called integrated assessment models (IAMs)”, said the Nobel committee.

He said at the University of Chicago in 2014 that “The tax means everyone pays for their share of environmental damage while facing powerful incentives to innovate and operate in cleaner, more efficient ways”.

He also believes that mapping the economic impact is a highly complex process and difficult to predict. However, he predicts the agrarian economy and other sectors that rely on it would face a crisis as food production declines due to natural disasters or imbalance in population patterns or population explosion. Though with technological innovations, farmers would adopt new methods and this might be a counterbalance. Extinction rates per century and glacial melting too would contribute severely.

These damning evidence and studies, I hope, should be enough to prioritize climate change mitigation, chalk out an action plan, and work in coordination towards fulfilling the Cop21 goals and re-casting the spotlight on the dire need to reduce global warming.

Geospatial technologies in climate change mitigation

Geospatial data and information are absolutely essential to analyze and effectively plan for adaptation to climate change. In a world where space-based technologies are being used in almost every field, the issue of lack of awareness among decision-makers and representatives of the research and academic community with respect to space technology applications still exists.

Spatial information plays a crucial role in tackling environmental degradation and climate change. Satellites offer a unique way of gathering data on essential climate variables at the global level, which may be too difficult, too costly or impossible to gather using in-situ approaches. Such variables include atmospheric, terrestrial, and oceanic aspects.

The United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) Fifth Session in August made it amply clear that forests, oceans and environment play a major role in sustainable development, and that’s why at the summit in New York, member states expressed the need for objective, clear and reliable data access for achieving sustainable development goals. And next month in September, as the governments of the world and the UN General Assembly met in New York to solidify 17 SDGs, 169 targets and 304 proposal indicators to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, geospatial information found its rightful place in the UN agenda. But even then it doesn’t find any mention in the Climate Change draft for the Paris meet.

For several decades now satellite remote sensing and geographical information system (GIS) have helped study and analyze the different aspect of the earth. Geospatial technologies that visualize and use information collected from ground, airborne and satellite platforms have proved to be a vital tool to examine the changes and to suggest adaptation and mitigation, locally, regionally and globally. Extracting large amounts of data developed from remote sensing sensors along with interoperability through the latest computing and software techniques makes it easier to access the frontier zones of the earth system.

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