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Climate Change on Land

July 17, 2019

We looked at the impact of climate change on the sea in a recent blogpost.  That included issues of coastal flooding, storm surges and salination. In this one, we look at the more direct impacts on land.

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Image by Jody Davis from Pixabay

A recent IPCC report noted that warming is generally higher over land than over the ocean.  Warming greater than the global annual average is being experienced in many land regions and seasons, including two to three times higher in the Arctic.  Many ecosystems and some of the services they provide have already changed due to global warming.

If global temperatures rise by 2°C then we can expect increases in hot days in most inhabited regions, heavy precipitation in several regions and the drought and precipitation deficits in some regions. Hot days in mid-latitudes warm by up to about 3°C at global warming of 1.5°C and about 4°C at 2°C; cold nights in high latitudes warm by up to about 4.5°C at 1.5°C and about 6°C at 2°C . The number of hot days is projected to increase in most land regions, with highest increases in the tropics.

Risks from heavy precipitation are projected in several northern hemisphere high-latitude and/or high-elevation regions, eastern Asia and eastern North America. Heavy precipitation associated with tropical cyclones is also projected to be higher.

And remember that the Climate Action Tracker forecast based on the Paris Conference commitments was for a temperature rise of 3°C.

PATTERN OF WARMING

Global average precipitation is expected to rise by about 3% to 5% by the year 2100 (IPCC) but this will not be consistent across the world:

  • Much of the increase in precipitation is expected to occur at high latitudes.
  • Low- and mid-latitude regions, are expected to suffer from more frequent and more severe droughts; dry conditions and warmer temperatures produce longer “fire seasons”.
  • Increased snowfall near both poles may offset some of the melting of glaciers and ice sheets in these regions by adding fresh ice to the tops of these features.
  • Some presently dry regions may welcome increased rainfall, but if this could manifest as heavy rainfall that causes flooding interspersed with more frequent droughts.
  • Hurricane seasons may start earlier and end later, providing more time for storms to occur. Storms may move into higher latitudes as ocean waters warm – the unprecedented occurrence of Hurricane Catarina in the South Atlantic along the coast of Brazil in March 2004 may be an ominous portent of things to come.

EXTREME WEATHER

Global warming is projected to lead to an increase in extreme weather events. Higher levels of humidity create increasingly unstable weather patterns.  More floods, storms and droughts; more wildfires. Asian monsoons become disrupted. Some places, notably Australia, experience many different extreme events in quick succession.

We will look into the likely patterns of extreme weather events in a future post.

MIGRATION

Populations at disproportionately higher risk of adverse consequences include disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, some indigenous peoples, and local communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods. Regions at disproportionately higher risk include Arctic ecosystems, dryland regions, small island developing states, and Least Developed Countries. Poverty and disadvantage are expected to increase in some populations as global warming increases (IPCC).

We will examine the impact of climate change on migration in a later post.

WATER

Research by the Met Office and Leeds University shows that global heating could bring many more bouts of severe drought as well as increased flooding to Africa than previously forecast.  The continent will experience many extreme outbreaks of intense rainfall over the next 80 years, triggering floods, storms and disruption of farming. In addition, these events are likely to be interspersed with more crippling droughts during the growing season also damaging crop and food production. The wet extreme will get worse, but the appearance of dry spells during the growing season will also get more severe.

The rate glaciers are melting in the Himalayas has doubled in just 20 years, according to a study which examined 40 years of satellite data.  Glaciers have been losing more than a vertical foot and a half of ice each year since 2000. Eight-hundred million people depend on seasonal runoff from Himalayan glaciers for irrigation, hydropower and water. There is currently more run-off during warm seasons but within the next few decades this will decrease as the glaciers lose mass, leading to water shortages. Similar effects are expected in the Andes.

ECOSYSTEMS

Impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, including species loss and extinction, are projected to be higher at global warming of 2°C. Of 105,000 species studied, 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates are projected to lose over half of their climatically determined geographic range for global warming of 2°C . There are also increased impacts associated with other biodiversity-related risks such as forest fires and the spread of invasive species.

High-latitude tundra and boreal forests are particularly at risk of climate change-induced degradation and loss, with woody shrubs already encroaching into the tundra and this will proceed with further warming.  (IPCC)

AGRICULTURE

Warming of 2°C is projected to result in higher net reductions in yields of maize, rice, wheat, and potentially other cereal crops, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America, and in the CO2-dependent nutritional quality of rice and wheat. Reductions in projected food availability are larger in the Sahel, southern Africa, the Mediterranean, central Europe, and the Amazon. Livestock are projected to be adversely affected with rising temperatures, depending on the extent of changes in feed quality, spread of diseases, and water resource availability. (IPCC)

The recent heatwave in Europe caused crop damage in France, the European Union’s largest grain growing nation. Grains such as rapeseed and wheat are in their crucial pre-harvest period making them more fragile to heat stress. Water restrictions, including for irrigation, are in place in one fifth of mainland France’s 96 administrative departments.

The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 noted that climate change will present risks and opportunities for domestic production, with the resilience of UK food systems dependent on the stewardship of natural resources including soils. The report concludes that there is a need for policy intervention over the next five years to manage the potential impacts of these risks on food prices in the UK.

There are odd positive implications and new opportunities too. In some areas of Argentina, farming conditions will improve due to heavier rainfall in traditionally dry areas.

PESTS

The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 also describes how new and emerging pests and diseases – including invasive non-native species – have the potential to cause severe impacts on people, animals and plants. It concludes we need to improve our understanding of how climate change will affect the threat of pests and diseases.

Research suggests that even slight climate warming could increase malaria riskto hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in areas that are currently too cold for malaria parasites to complete their development. The rate of malaria transmission to humans is strongly determined by the time it takes for the parasites to develop in the mosquito. The quicker the parasites develop, the greater the chance that the mosquito will survive long enough for the parasites to complete their development and be transmitted to humans.

TREES

Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide emissions, so planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis. Recent analysis found there are 1.7bn hectares of treeless land on which 1.2tn native tree saplings would naturally grow. That area is about 11% of all land and equivalent to the size of the US and China combined. Tropical areas could have 100% tree cover, while others would be more sparsely covered, meaning that on average about half the area would be under tree canopy.

In practice, things are moving in the opposite direction.

Deforestation in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon rainforest rose more than 88% in June compared with the same month a year ago, the second consecutive month of rising forest destruction under the new president Bolsanaro.  According to data from Brazil’s space agency, deforestation in the world’s largest tropical rainforest totaled 920 sq km (355 sq miles).

The Congo Basin is the second-largest rainforest on Earth is also subject to deforestation. Not only does that mean that the forests are less able to take CO2out of the atmosphere, carbon that has been locked up in the Congo’s soils for hundreds to thousands of years is starting to seep out. Soils hold a tremendous amount of carbon—more than the atmosphere and living vegetation combined. About a third of that carbon resides in soils in the tropics, areas that are undergoing profound changes due to population growth, industry, and agriculture.

NEXT

In our next post on climate change, we will look at the impact of warming world on natural defences. If you have views on any of the issues in this field, please do contact us and we can give you the opportunity to express them.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

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Will the 21st Century Be African? Part 5 – Economy

July 10, 2019

In previous blogs, we have looked at how African Society might change in the 21st century, at how technology will affect Africa, and the big environmental issues Africa faces.  In this blog we look at how Africa’s economy might change as we move towards the end of the first quarter of the 21st century.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Remember, Africa is a continent of some 54 countries.  In these blogs we are focusing on sub-Saharan Africa – 46 countries according to the UN World Development Programme.  The African Development Bank’s overview of prospects for growth in the near term, sees African growth reaching 4.1% in 2020.  That would be stellar growth in the developed world, but it’s not enough in Africa to address fiscal and current account deficits and unsustainable debts, along with population pressures, and it is held back by sluggish growth in Africa’s three biggest economies, South Africa, Nigeria and Angola. The Bank argues that Africa needs to loosen the constraints on free trade in order to maximise its growth and prosperity.  The good news is that it is in the process of doing so.

Moves to open up trade are in hand.  The African Union reports that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is now moving from its ratification phase to becoming operational.  Although the pace of change may be unpredictable and variable across the continent, AfCFTA will provide greater opportunities for growth and development for those who are ready to grasp them.

A look at current trends within countries gives us an inkling of which countries these might be. Looking beyond average GDP to individual states, we see some clear leaders.  According to the World Bank’s reports, Ethiopia, which had growth of 8.2% in 2018, is forecast to grow at 7.8% in the next two years.  Also forecast to grow 7%+ are Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, whilst Benin, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Tanzania are all forecast to grow at 6%+.

Looking further into the future, Africa’s population growth – projected to rise from 1.2 billion today to 2.5 billion by 2050 – will clearly lead to significant economic growth. But does it mean that Africa will become more prosperous?  The signals are mixed.  Africa will have a young population, likely to be ambitious, acquisitive and innovative. It has a strong and growing services sector, boosted by IT and connectivity.  More people in Africa use their phones for financial transactions than anywhere else in the world, according to McKinsey.

As noted above, moves have begun to increase the ease with which African states can trade with each other. And according to several studies, at least parts of Africa are becoming easier places to do business, and stronger on innovation, competitiveness and good governance – we will come back to the question of governance in the next blog.  Countries to watch include:

  • Botswana
  • Ethiopia
  • Kenya
  • Madagascar
  • Mauritius
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Rwanda
  • Senegal
  • South Africa
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda

On the other hand, the infrastructure is generally poor.  China’s Belt & Road Initiative promises to allow Africa to take much-needed steps forward in this area.  Africa has to improve its road and rail, and its power generation and supply systems. Some African and international commentators see the potential debt implications of Belt & Road as a major concern.  Others feel that the benefits, in terms of infrastructure and unleashing the continent’s economic potential, are too good to miss.  According to an IMF podcast, countries in Africa that have invested in infrastructure are the ones that are seeing growth rates of 6% or more.

Africa is rich in natural resources.  Of course some of these resources include coal and oil.  As the world moves away from burning fossil fuels, as it combats global warming, will Africa manage to write off such “stranded assets”, or will some countries seek to cash in on their oil and coal while they still can? Will Africa’s power infrastructure be based more on renewables, or on locally available coal and oil?

Africa’s potential as a tourist destination is still largely unrealised. Its size, the difference in and majesty of its lands, the diversity of its cultures and its still abundant animal life all point to the opportunity. But its power and transport infrastructures, coupled with the potential for unrest, make large parts still attractive only to ‘adventure tourism’. Mass market travel and tourism depends on fixing the internal issues whilst also developing its attractiveness as a destination – which in turn relies on the headlines in the world press turning from a focus on the problems to the opportunities.

There is also something to be said for the need in Africa for the rest of the world to stop seeing it as ‘Africa’, but as 46 countries with as wide a range of development, political stability and opportunity as the rest of the world. In Europe in particular, the tendency to view Africa in an almost imperial sense, of it being a clump of poor countries with immense social and developmental problems, has failed to catch up with the reality – and it is when African countries themselves can break that imperial view and start establishing their own distinct presence that they will truly begin to take their place in the world’s political and trading structure. We see encouraging signs of this, both within the individual countries and through the establishment of continental and subcontinental trading and political agreements.

A Virtuous Circle?

So there are mixed signals for Africa: on the one hand, a recent history of strong growth, a group of pathfinder countries that are setting the pace on growth and governance, natural resource wealth, and a population boom, that will see Africa become the youngest continent on the planet; on the other hand, historic problems such as poor infrastructure, debt and poor governance – and in some countries, the reality of ongoing conflicts.

It is not possible to predict precisely how things will go, but given the heterogeneity of the continent it is probably safe to say that the picture will be uneven.  An optimistic scenario would see a number of positive developments:

  • The trail being blazed by the best of Africa’s developing countries, which will begin to create a model for others to copy and learn from, in which case Africa’s growth will match that of China and India
  • The much-needed infrastructure investment from China – and perhaps enhanced by investment from other would-be trade partners – will provide the underpinning that allows Africa to maximise its development opportunities
  • Resourcefulness and innovation using new technologies, devolved and sustainable power generation and supply – as discussed in the Technology Blog – will see Africa find ways around the constraints of over-regulation and poor governance in doing business
  • A growing mood of self-confidence among Africa’s most successful leaders – moving from a sense of dependence on the rest of the world to a relationship of equals – leads to changes in the way African nations trade with each other, and with the rest of the world: we will have more to say about this in the next blog….
  • ….matched by the aspirations of a rising and better-educated population.

Watch This Space

In the next blog in this series we look at Africa’s governance, looking at the aspirations of Africa’s people, the evolution of governance across the continent, and the growth of a more self-confident and outward-facing Africa in the world.

Written by David Lye, SAMI Fellow and Director and Jonathan Blanchard Smith, SAMI Fellow and Director

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

Climate Change and the Sea

July 3, 2019

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One of the clearest areas impacted by the climate emergency is the world’s oceans. Excess heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases spreads into the oceans which absorb around a third of all manmade CO2, and 90 percent of the excess heat created by those greenhouse gas emissions.

Along with the warm air itself, the heat absorbed by the oceans melts ice in the polar regions, raising sea levels; melting glaciers also have an effect. The expansion of seawater as it warms contributes substantially to sea level rise, perhaps accounting for as much as 40%.

Satellite radar measurements reveal an accelerating rise of 7.5 cm (3.0 in) from 1993 to 2017. Forecasting sea level rise is challenging, depending on many assumptions. The International Panel on Climate (IPCC) have a range of warming forecasts, which predict a sea level rise of up to one metre by 2100. But more recent studies using more varied scenario planning have challenged that modelling and suggested that on current warming trends the seas would be as much as two metres higher by 2100 in even the median scenario.

At higher levels of CO2 emissions, and warming sea levels will rise further.  A recent IPCC report forecast global mean sea level rise to be around 10% higher with global warming of 2°C compared to 1.5°C by 2100. This difference implies that up to 10 million more people would be exposed to related risks of flooding, saltwater intrusion and damage to infrastructure. The higher rate of sea level rise at global warming of 2°C also reduces opportunities for adaptation.  And remember that the Climate Action Tracker forecast based on the Paris Conference commitments was for a temperature rise of 3°C.

The Met Office annual report on climate change found that average sea levels around the UK have risen by 1.4mm a year since 1900 – equal to a rise of 16cm (6.3ins). Their mean projection for sea level rise in London by 2100 is 60cms, with an upper estimate of 1.15 metres.  UK coastal flood risk is expected to increase over the 21st century and beyond under all emission scenarios considered. “This means that we can expect to see both an increase in the frequency and magnitude of extreme water levels around the UK coastline.”

The effect of sea level rise on low-lying islands and coasts could be dramatic. As well as the direct effect and the salinization of farm lands, higher sea-levels lead to more extreme events such as flooding and storms. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) quotes Professor Myers of Oxford University who estimated that as many as 200 million people may become refugees from a combination of disruptions of monsoon systems, by droughts of unprecedented severity and duration, and coastal flooding. The World Bank suggested 140 million by 2050.

28% of Bangladesh’s 165 million people live on the coast. During the rainy season more than one-fifth of the country can be flooded at once. The number of Bangladeshis displaced by the varied impacts of climate change (eg cyclones, salt water incursion) could reach 13.3 million by 2050, according to a March 2018 World Bank report. The effect on South Asia as a whole could be as many as 40 million migrants.

Mumbai and other fast-growing coastal megacities in Asia are particularly vulnerable to climate-related flooding. Large parts of Mumbai are built on land that, 300 years ago, was mostly underwater. When the British, who took over in 1661, they connected a series of islands into a contiguous landmass and created a peninsula by filling in land gaps to connect the islands. So the city is only artificially higher than sea level. Twenty-one of the world’s 31 megacities (cities of 10 million or more) are on the coast, 13 of these are in Asia.

Pacific Islands like Kiribati are very vulnerable to sea-level rise. Kiribati is a system of islands across the Pacific, the majority of which lie a mere 5-6 feet above sea level. Kiribati could be uninhabitable in as little as 30 years, given the current pace of climate change.

In the US, research identifies 241 cities of 25,000 people or more that will require at least $10 million (£7.9 million) worth of sea walls by 2040 just to protect against a typical annual storm. Even the internet is under threat – thousands of miles of fibre optic cables are under threat in US cities like New York, Seattle and Miami, and could soon be out of action unless steps are taken to protect them.

In the UK, a report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said existing government plans to “hold the line” in many places – building defences to keep shores in their current position – were unaffordable for a third of the country’s coast. In the 2080s, 1,600km of major roads, 650km of railway line and 92 stations will be at risk, the CCC found. Ports, power stations and gas terminals are also in danger.  Holland, with 26% of the country already below sea-level, is working hard on adaptation technology.

There are second-order effects too. The retreat of coastal forests as sea level rises is well documented. Tidal flooding and saltwater intrusion as well as flooding and wind associated with storms can kill trees. This creates a feedback loop where vegetation no longer provides a buffer against storm surges.

The oceans don’t just soak up excess heat from the atmosphere; they also absorb excess carbon dioxide, which reacts with the seawater making carbonic acid. Increasing acidity has effects such as depressing metabolic rates and immune responses in some organisms, and causing coral bleaching.  In 2016, bleaching of coral on the Great Barrier Reef killed between 29% and 50% of the reef’s coral; in 2017, the bleaching extended into the central region of the reef.

Ongoing acidification of the oceans may threaten future food chains. But it can have other surprising effects: squid populations are expected to rise because their faster breeding cycles enable them to adapt to changing environments faster than their predators.  And jellyfish have experienced a population explosion in recent years.

Warming seas also change fish behaviour, impacting both the birds that feed on them and the fishing industry. Species such as cod, sea bass and king crab are expected to move further north. Fishermen in North Carolina, fishing for black sea bass, may have to travel 300 or 400 extra miles to find them.  Climate change starved to death thousands of puffins in Alaska when the fish they eat migrated north with rising sea temperatures.

In our next post on climate change, we will look at effects on land. If you have views on any of the issues in this field, please do contact us and we can give you the opportunity to express them.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

The Demographic Time Bomb: How Our Assumptions About Global Population Are About to Go Bang!

June 26, 2019
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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any article, blog or book about population growth should start with Thomas Malthus.  This blog discusses a paradigm shift in world population – one which may finally put to bed the theories of the Rev Malthus, although that is far from the most important of the implications.

But let’s begin with Malthus. His Essay on the Principle of Population (first published in 1798) argued that there is a natural tendency for population to increase rapidly, and that population is held in check mainly by negative factors: hunger, disease and war. He went on to argue in later editions that preventive checks, such as later marriages, could ensure a higher standard of living, and increase economic stability.

At the time of the Essay’s publication, the population of the world is estimated to have been one billion.  Today, the world’s population is over 7 billion.  Over that period, the theories of Malthus have been kept at bay by rising living standards leading to longer life expectancy, reductions in infant (and maternal) mortality, near-eradication of many serious infectious diseases through vaccination and immunisation, better sanitation, and safer working conditions.  The spurt in world population began in Europe and the USA, spreading to the rest of the world.  As countries and regions have developed economically, they have acquired the means to ensure a better, healthier and safer life for their people.

The two centuries of rapid population growth have inspired various neo-Malthusian prophecies of doom – initially warnings of hunger and disease; and more recently warnings of the danger of exhausting the earth’s finite natural resources.  Population has stubbornly continued to rise, and so have living standards, with billions being lifted out of absolute poverty in the last 30 years, in spite of the warnings of imminent doom.  The neo-Malthusians have so far been proved wrong.

Checkmate for Malthus

This argument might continue as we move through the 21st century.  But a new book calls into question the most fundamental – and hitherto unchallenged – part of Malthusian theory.

Whilst the world’s growing population bears witness of the ability of humankind to keep at bay the checks of hunger, disease and war, it has been generally assumed that the “natural tendency” for population to increase would continue.  But the latest evidence shows that this is no longer a safe assumption.

In fact, it has been unsafe for some time, but the population explosion in the developing world, especially Asia, has masked a trend towards declining birth rates.  The “reproduction rate” for human fertility – that is, the rate required to keep the population stable, all other things being equal – is 2.1.  In 1950 the global fertility rate was 5.0.  It is 2.5 today, and the latest UN projection is that it will be 1.9 by the end of this century.

The UN’s latest Population Projections, published in June of this year, suggest a median world population figure of 9.7 billion in 2050, and 10.9 billion in 2100.  In other words, they see population growth continuing through the century but slowing down.  Their lower projection is of a population of 9.4 billion in 2050, remaining the same in 2100 – in other words, in the second half of this century, we might see the end of global population growth.

The population is aging as well.  In 1950 the median age of the world’s population was 24.  Today it is 31.  By the end of the century, the UN projections suggest that it will be 42.

In their book, Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, Darrell Bricker and John Ibbotson go much further.  They argue that the UN projections underestimate the factors that are driving population growth downwards.  They argue that the global population in 2100 will be no higher than it was in 2000 and may even be lower.  And the population will be older.  They argue that factors such as economic prosperity, female emancipation, and urbanisation are leading women to exercise their right to have fewer children, or not have children at all.

This tendency is most evident in developed economies.  Remember, the replacement rate for fertility is 2.1:

  • The EU’s average fertility rate is 1.6
  • The USA’s fertility rate is higher than Europe’s – 1.9. Bricker & Ibbotson argue that this, together with its relatively open immigration policy (at least for now), means that its population is projected to grow from 345 million today, to 450 million by the end of the century – this is consistent with the UN projections
  • Japan’s fertility rate is 1.4. More than 25% of the population are of pensionable age. Median age is 48. Bricker and Ibbotson argue that Japan’s population will fall from 125 million in 2000 to just 83 million in 2100
  • Other Asian “tigers” are following suit. South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan all have fertility rates around 1.2.  Bricker and Ibbotson say that in the middle of this century, South Korea is set to overtake Japan as the “oldest” population on earth
  • China’s population is set to peak in 2030 at 1.4 billion, but the average age will then increase rapidly, and the population is projected by the UN to decline to just over 1 billion in 2100 – Bricker & Ibbotson believe it will fall further – back below 1 billion
  • India’s population is projected to continue to increase to 1.7 billion in 2060, and then begin to decline

The only region that will buck the trend will be Africa, which is set to grow from 800 million in 2000 to 2.5 billion by 2050, and projected to grow to 4.3 billion by 2100 (according to UN projections).  60% of its population is aged under 25.  Increasingly Africa will be anomalous: it will be the “Young Continent” – as we have previously discussed in our Africa blogs.

There is no fundamental disagreement between the UN and Bricker & Ibbotson as to the drivers of population change.  It is a matter of degree.  Bricker & Ibbotson see the downward drivers as stronger than the UN does, and largely irreversible.  The UN allows the possibility that countries that seek to do so will be able to raise their fertility rates.  Bricker and Ibbotson argue that such initiatives tend to have short-lived success, and that long-term downward trends will then reassert themselves.

But the direction of travel remains the same – only the duration of the journey is at issue.  Interestingly, the UN’s 2019 projections are slightly but significantly lower than the previous set, published in 2017.  The trend raises some big questions – both intellectual ones for futurists, and practical ones for business strategists and economists.

  • What does the projected decline and aging of China’s population do to the assumption that this will be the “Chinese century”? Will China enter the economic doldrums, as Japan has already done?
  • Will Africa’s population growth and the youth of its population make it a rising economic power, or will it fall foul of those Malthusian “checks” of hunger, disease and war?
  • Will Africa’s young people be welcomed by the rest of the world as a valuable resource, or seen as a mass-migration “problem”?
  • Will the USA, and other countries or regions with open migration policies fare better than those with greater reluctance to accommodate cultural differences?
  • Will countries with older populations be less inclined to spend, and more inclined to save for old age?
  • Will countries with older populations be less inclined to fight wars, or will they simply fight by other means – drones and cyber warfare, for example?
  • Will countries with older populations be less innovative and adaptable?
  • Will falling population mean we have a greener planet?
  • How will Governments balance the needs of older people with the expectations of people of working age?
  • How will technology allow new opportunities to address these problems?
  • Will countries seek to persuade (or coerce) women into having more babies? Will they succeed?

These 11 questions are a starter.  Increasingly we can expect to see the demographic time-bomb baked into foresight frameworks and scenario planning exercises.  And I am sure SAMI will have plenty to say about this.

If he could, what would Malthus be blogging?

Written by David Lye, SAMI Fellow and Director

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

CLIMATE CHANGE – CLIMATE EMERGENCY

June 19, 2019

One of the clearest “megatrends” facing the world must surely be climate change – or “climate emergency” as many commentators are now calling it. Clearly there are a range of outcomes possible, from the ambition of a “less than 1.5°C” level of global warming from pre-industrial levels, to frightening suggestions of an increase of 6°C or more. But whatever the outcome we can be certain there will be major ramifications for the world, its people and its flora and fauna.  And for organisations of all kinds.

We’ve decided to focus on this major issue in a new series of blogposts.  We will cover the likely impacts of climate change on various parts of the global ecosystem, and address both “mitigation” (reducing emissions) and “adaptation” (coping with climate change already happening).

The International Panel on Climate Change, set up in 1968, is the main international body attempting to get global agreement on ways of reducing climate change. It achieved a notable success in 2015 with the Paris agreement, signed up to by nearly 200 countries, including the USA and China, with most ratifying the agreement in April the following year. The agreement aims to respond to the global climate change threat by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2°Cabove pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to1.5°C.

Unfortunately, the incoming Trump administration in the US announced on 1 June 2017, that the United States would withdraw from the agreement, with an effective withdrawal date of 4 November 2020.

An independent group, Climate Action Tracker,  has analysed the pledges and policies put in place following the Paris Agreement, and it is clear that they are nowhere near the level necessary to hit the 1.5°C target, with 3°C being more likely  – twice the target level.

Climat change graphic

So what would such a rise or worse actually mean? We shall look to answer that question in a number of areas:

  • Climate change and the sea: sea-levels, acidification, coral bleaching, changing fish migration patterns
  • Climate change and agriculture: pluses as well as minuses
  • Impact of warming world on natural defences – methane sinks in Siberia, ice packs reflecting sunlight etc
  • Extreme weather events
  • Migration

What technologies could be effective in mitigating climate change?  What upsides could there be?

  • Renewables: solar/wind/tidal/bio/, progress, economics, battery storage
  • Carbon capture and storage
  • Transport: electric vehicles (including planes and ships), air taxis, Heathrow; commercialisation ofspace
  • Other more innovative technology responses – cloud seeding

And what might the political and economic impacts be?

  • Stern report 2006
  • Future of fossil fuel industry: disinvestment, “keep it in the ground”, stranded assets, fracking
  • Impact on finance sector – Bank of England warnings, insurance industry
  • Political responses: new Green Deal, insulation, next COP event, street-level response; political impacts of climate change and climate change mitigation (including geo-political impacts on oil-producing countries)

Debate has focussed on achieving zero emissions by at least 2050, preferably earlier.  But even achieving that is likely to be hugely disruptive, and we saw in a previous blog that BP’s energy forecasts show this to be unlikely. Recently the climate emergency had a moment at the centre of public debate (at least in the UK) with the visit of Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough’s powerful programme and the Extinction Rebellion disruption. And the Government has now committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

If you have views on any of the issues in this field, please do contact us and we can give you the opportunity to express them.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

 

 

The Private Rental Sector – A New Market for Income Protection

June 12, 2019

In 2017-18, the private rented sector accounted for 4.5 million or 19% of households. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the proportion of private rented households was steady at around 10%. The sector has doubled in size since 2002 and the rate has hovered at around 20% since 2013-14.

25-34-year olds are now more likely to be private renters than owner occupiers. So if you look at the age range of 25 – 44 years, which is the majority of the IP (income protection) market for new customers, a very significant number are private renters. Despite this change anecdotal evidence suggests that only around 6.5% of IP customers are renters.

A significant proportion of them are pretty similar to those with mortgages. More than a third have at least one dependent child and most are working. Between 15 and 20% of rent arrears in the private rental sector can be put down to sickness.

So what happens when sickness strikes and a household doesn’t have IP? If the household is entitled to Universal Credit (UC) and they live in social housing their rent is normally met in full minus the “bedroom tax”. This is not the case for private renters. Here their eligible support is determined by Local Housing Allowance Rates (LHAs), which are pegged at the cheapest rent in an area for a particular size of property or capped. In addition, LHAs were frozen in 2016 until 2020 while private rental costs have gone up. A growing gap has been created by this system between the rent households have to pay and the amount of UC they receive for that purpose.

The gap is very variable. In most of London and some other UK hotspots the gap can be very large indeed and even in less well-off areas the gap is still significant. Here are five examples of the average monthly gap – Hounslow (£437); Cambridge (£531); Bristol (£217); Milton Keynes (£148) and York (£107). To meet the gap households have to find the extra money from the living expenses element of their UC. In 2017, 38% of private landlords experienced UC tenants going into rent arrears.  Three out of 10 of those going into arrears were evicted. Homelessness has grown by 40% in the past five years. Apart from the financial impact of the gap there is also the social burden on families caused by relocation – often well away from their original homes. And as well as the short-term emotional disruption, the longer-term health and social consequences of homelessness can be significant, particularly for families with children.

For most customers, buying IP is a lifestyle choice not to be dependent on means-tested benefits from the State, having own occupation cover and rehabilitation support. For those in social housing this remains a situation of choice. For private renters the choice is starker. Either you have IP to cover your rent and living expenses, or you will not have sufficient money to pay your rent and support your family.

The growth of the gap is a strong incentive for IP purchase and is an opportunity for local intermediaries to get to know a new market, form relationships with tenants, letting agents and landlords to meet an ever-growing household resilience need. As with all IP advised sales documentation should include a warning with regard to the possible interaction between IP policies and State benefits and for rentals it may also be wise to document that the purpose of the product is to support rental payment and living expenses.

Written by Richard Walsh, SAMI Fellow and co-chair of BRHG, and originally published on the IPTF website, June 2019.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

 

AI: More Than Human

June 5, 2019
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Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

The Barbican exhibition on AI (running until 26thAugust) is a bold attempt to bring together cultural and scientific history, analysis of current technologies and issues, and examples of possible futures.  When I visited it was certainly popular, with lots of young people enjoying playing with the exhibits.

The first section identified how over history there have been many cultural ideas about inanimate objects coming alive. This covered the Jewish Golem, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster, Japanese Bunraku puppetry, through to more modern examples like Blade Runner.

More interestingly, in the second area, there was an extensive history of scientific thought into artificial intelligence. This covered “Stanford’s cart”, a 1960 attempt at an autonomous vehicle; basic principles such as Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem;  “expert systems” (an approach to AI now largely superseded); and on to a discussion about the Singularity, when AI becomes more than human. Unfortunately, because the place was so busy, it was difficult to go through all of the information presented, which seemed very comprehensive.

Another section explained the basic technology of modern AI – machine learning, deep learning, neural networks etc – with a number of interactive displays.

This section raised some of the common concerns about AI:  biased decisions because of incomplete data, privacy and security, the relationship between humans and AI systems (empathetic or confrontational). One particular area was the use of AI by the military  – autonomous weapons systems. Many people are unhappy with the idea of machines killing people with no human intervention and are now trying to get international agreements to ban such weapons, in the same way as we have bans on chemical weapons – stopkillerrobots.org.  This seemed an oddly simplistic area – most people who have any interest in AI will already have come across these questions, and they weren’t explored in any depth.

Then there was a display devoted to AlphaGo, which raised the question of what it means to be creative. Does the fact that the system made an unexplained innovative move differ in any real sense from an expert’s (detective, surgeon) “gut instinct” – something built up over years’ of experience?

A section on the interaction of the biological world and AI explored how one could create environments that mimicked those of history or other planets, and how plant development could itself encode information – “endless evolution”. “A-life” explored how bio-mimicry could create new products and challenge ones’ perception of what was natural and what engineered. Some of the supporting information seemed over-ambitious however – “changing the nature of time”?

Down in the Barbican Pit was an immersive display – “What a Loving and Beautiful World”.  Pretty images rolled around the four walls of the room, and by waving at them you could change how they behaved. It wasn’t all clear what the point of this was – when asked the assistant explained what it did, but not why.

Perhaps the best example of new robotic usefulness was the “MakrShakr” – an automated cocktail maker, but sadly, I didn’t get chance to sample its wares!

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at newreader@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

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