It’s been well over three months since Rosie Stancer and Pom Oliver returned from her Aral Kum expedition. Since her departure so much has happened in the Climate Intelligence sphere due to COP26, so we revisit and share part II of Iggy and Rosies’ chat as a reminder of what’s at stake.
Sponsored by Cervest, the duo trekked 600km across a former seabed. The man-made desert was formed when the two rivers that once fed the bountiful Aral Sea were diverted to grow crops. A decision that has led to catalytic climate impacts for both local and global communities.
In part I, Cervest’s Founder and CEO, Iggy Bassi, joined Rosie to discuss the creation and remediation of the desert but also to share their hopes for COP26. Now, they discuss why collaborative climate adaptation efforts must extend beyond tangible and intangible borders for human and economic security. Watch part II below.
We need to collaborate on adaptation - climate change supersedes international borders
One of the reasons why I wanted to do this particular crossing of the Aral Kum was to actually see close up, and experience firsthand, rather than reading vague reports about what was really going on in the Aral, and how it was impacting people and the immediate area. Pom and I carefully chose a route that would incorporate as many diverse parts of the desert scape as possible. Crossing west to east, 600 kilometers approximately, pulling our own carts, covering the steps, sand, salt pans, maybe a bit of water, everything.
When we were there, we found our way strewn with carcasses of dead animals, and redundant fishing vessels, high salinity wherever we went, no visible signs of any crops. And we actually became quite ill, both of us at one stage, to the extent that Pom had to be evacuated. Now, she's having tests and we think that this has to do with the toxicity of the atmosphere.
The atmosphere in the desert climate though, with the winds, is picking up the dust from the new seabed all the time. All this gets picked up, swept up in these dust storms, which are now quite frequent. And they can travel. Traces of dust have been found at either end of the world, Antarctica and the Arctic and Scandinavia. In other words, the issue with the Aral Sea is not just a local one. It affects the planet.
It affects the planet, humans, but also animals and species ranges. Humans are not the only ones who are trying to survive with a different climate - animals are shifting, species are shifting, therefore pathogens are also shifting. I was on some farms a few years ago in Portugal, and for the very first time they're seeing tropical diseases that they haven't seen before. It's not just humans on the planet, animals are trying to figure out - how do they adapt? They will move - and that may cause the spillover from animals into humans, of things like diseases.
That's going to be a real challenge for us - to start modeling this and start saying, “How can we start forecasting some of these changes? How can we use the power of technology, forecasting, scenario building so we can start planning and start giving people the implications early on? What are the probable outcomes? What are the plausible pathways? And what can we do now, before these events take off?”
Think about the preparation that governments, international agencies, even companies will have to start thinking about from a scenario point of view. The world will become a lot more volatile. Within that volatility, humans, animals, the teleconnections between different geographies, all that will come into play.
Adaptation and resilience are critical for economic growth and human security
I'm very concerned that we're not having a deep enough conversation about adaptation. I think we'll see deeper commitments on Net Zero. Whether they're coming from governments or coming from companies, we will set Net Zero goals, and more and more companies will be compelled, if not by their competitors, to start setting these long term goals, which I think is vital. However, there's a necessary conversation I think is also missing - How do we adapt to a different physical world?
Physical volatility is locked into the system, so we also need to think about large-scale adaptation. What's going to happen to the way we think about our work, our assets, our economies, and our food production? We have about something like 30 growing seasons before we need to double the food capacity in the world. That’s it! Now, you put that against the backdrop of climate risk, resource security, or insecurity, how do we start scaling this up in a way that we can start saying, “Let's think about smart adaptation.”, “Let's make the right choices early in our planning phase.”?
What we would like to see is deeper commitments to adaptation, or at least recognizing that there are physical risks locked into the system that need to be contended with, and need to be factored into things like supply chains and countries and national security and internal security, things like migration. These will become very, very real in the next couple of decades.
With the adaptation, I feel it's very important to get this message, as you're saying it, filtered down clearly to our new generation. They're the ones who are going to imminently start having to implement this.
We work with many wonderful young people who are bringing inspiration in how they are thinking about climate change. And I think there's been a generational shift as well. When we think about the cotton t-shirt, going back to the Aral Kum, the younger generation are a lot more conscious about what they buy, where they buy it, where it's sourced from.
So over time, you will see full traceability of where this cotton has come from. You’ll even see pictures of the farmers, the chemical mix that's gone in, the water that's gone in, the carbon that's gone in, and where it's been either offset, or where they reduced their carbon over time.
Two degrees in the system for a number of decades means a huge amount of energy that needs to be transferred somewhere. And this is why we'll see greater weather system volatility, for instance, particularly in coastal areas, as we already are. It seems like humanity is moving to the coast, just where the energy intersection between land and sea will cause a lot more volatility in the next couple of decades.
And of course, the water, because of the shortage of water, shall become the Holy Grail. Symbolically, on the Aral Kum crossing, trying to pull this cart in over 50 degrees, your tongue swells and perpetually, all you can think about is thirst. You begin to think and realize how horrible it is to actually suffer from lack of hydration and from lack of water.
Play that out for millions of farmers - think about labor productivity. At a certain level, your body can't function, you can't perspire, because the outside humidity is so much stronger. Think about farming systems, think about construction jobs, think about GDPs which are very dependent on weather systems over time. All that will need to be adapted.
So when we think about global integration of things like supply chains, and investments and capital markets, we need to factor those risks in. When I worked in emerging markets, and I've lived in Brazil, worked in Ghana, a lot of the world's infrastructure that's getting built today is not climate resilient. My concern is construction goes to the lowest bidder, that costs the least amount, and they haven't really thought about the resilience factor. Therefore, I'm not sure lots of this infrastructure is going to sustain some of these changes that they're forecast to see. There are so many ways that engineering design and climate risk are mismatched.
Your company can advise people to invest in resilience in whatever industry they happen to be, whether it's food, or whether it's technology themselves…
We've taken the decision to create an open intelligence system. Which means you can look at assets that matter to you, or geographies that matter to you, or time periods that matter to you. For example, say I'm interested in real estate in Argentina for the next 15 years. What are the climate risks that are likely to happen?
From a physical risk point of view, we can also measure carbon over these assets as well, because obviously, you want to put your capital and your investments into low carbon, Net Zero, or highly adapted assets over time. By having a freemium, or what we call a freemium level, which basically means there's a free level available to everybody on the planet, people can start understanding how much risk is in the system, but also other people can see the risk as well, for your banks, insurance companies, your business partners, your suppliers.
It takes game theory out of the system for many people. The last thing we want, as the world becomes smarter with things like machine learning and downscaling, climate science or asset level, is we don't want too much information privatized. Because again, we have about 10 years to stay within a Paris aligned world. How do we spread that? How do we democratize that as fast as possible?
I do worry about people's capacity to adapt over time. If you think about emerging countries, if you think about countries which are a lot more vulnerable, or where people don't have the resources, having a free layer of intelligence at a national, at a local level, at an asset level, at a financing level, means at least the data is there for people to start consuming and start making better decisions. I do think it needs to happen at the planning stage, because right now risks are getting played out every single day, and they will accelerate.
Then we have the whole problem with climate justice. How do we spread this technology in countries and in communities that have the least amount of resources, who probably have the lowest carbon footprint as well, so probably are the least responsible for some of the volatility, which is now manmade.
We must collaborate on adaptation - climate change supersedes international borders
One only needs to look at the Aral Kum disaster to see how widespread and how disastrous it can be if you just think inwardly and microscopically.
I think you're right. In an ever connected world - I mean, we are deeply interconnected. When I think about supply chains, when I think about crops, for instance, when I just look at the UK situation, I think something like 37% of our crops now come from water stressed countries. We've also created interdependent risks.
What we're very concerned about is how do we understand that risk early? So we can plan better, we can adapt better, we can think about mitigation early in the design phase. I think far too often we wait for the crisis, and we are always in reactive mode.
We've never had so much technology in the world as we have today. We can send cameras up into the black hole! We can, therefore, certainly manage the earth here and figure out how we can understand interconnected risk. We have the use of satellites, we have the use of machine learning, we have so much more observational data.
We can make better decisions today in the planning phase. Therefore, when we are thinking about large scale damming projects, or large scale restoration projects, we can start factoring in “How do we make this Net Zero at the very beginning? How do we make it sustainable from the design phase?”. We've already built a fair bit of the world. Now we need to think about “How do we manage? How do we retrofit? Do we need to relocate some resources? Do we need to think about synthetic biology in a different way?”.
The mix of risks that we're going to face in the next couple of decades are just enormous because you've had this really interesting intersection between climate risk, but also natural security around resources. You obviously saw that in the Aral. How should governments and companies factor that into accelerating risk from climate? Let's say water diminishment, by 2030. I mean, how many millions of people will be water scarce? How should we plan that into economic activity?
To watch part I of this video, and for more of Cervest's COP26 coverage and thought leadership visit our COP26 resource page.
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