Coral reefs, oyster reefs and mangroves help preserve low lying areas
A startling fact for you… For the decade 2002 to 2011 there were some 4130 natural disasters globally, resulting in more than a million deaths and an economic loss of at least $1.195 trillion. The figures come in a new report out today. The key message from that report is that environmental degradation increases the risk of disasters worldwide. Moreover, it’s “a significant factor that reduces the capacity of societies to deal with disaster risk” in many countries around the world. The World Risk Report 2012 was presented today in Brussels, Belgium by the German Alliance for Development Works (Alliance), United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) and The Nature Conservancy. The report’s WorldRiskIndex, developed by UNU-EHS in cooperation with the Alliance, determines the risk of becoming the victim of a disaster as a result of natural hazards for 173 countries. At most risk As Julia Hawkins from Ashen points out in her article on small island states in our online feature section this week, the Pacific Island states are at particular risk. Vanuatu and Tonga have the highest disaster risk, the WWR report says. At the other end of the scale, Malta and Qatar face the lowest risk. The UK ranks 139th and is therefore in the lowest of all risk categories. “This report illustrates the powerful role that nature can play in reducing risks to people and property from coastal hazards like storms, erosion and floods. Coral reefs, oyster reefs and mangroves offer flexible, cost-effective, and sustainable first lines of defense,” said Dr. Michael Beck, Lead Marine Scientist at The Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy’s Drs. Beck and Christine Shepard, co-authors of the WRR, found that there are 200 million people who may receive risk reduction from coral reefs alone – which can reduce wave energy by more than 85%. The countries with the greatest number of at-risk people who may receive risk reduction benefits from reefs (people living below 10m elevation and within 50km of coral reefs) are Indonesia and India (> 35 M people each); followed by the Philippines (>20M); China (> 15 M); Brazil, Vietnam, Brazil and the USA (all > 7M). So why have I chosen to blog about this report? For a number of reasons: The figures are shocking and should be out there. We can all do something to stem the speed of environmental degradation. The report says: “So far, people have rarely been the direct trigger of such disasters. But with their devastating interventions in nature, they have massively raised the hazard potential.” Ergo, people also have the power to reverse this trend, at least in part if not entirely. While there are several factors that contribute to environmental degradation, man-made climate change is a significant contributor – as the WWR report points out, climate change and the more frequent occurrence of “climate extremes” are permanently aggravating the hazard situation and increasing vulnerability (IPCC 2012a), while the United Nations Secretariat notes: “Environmental degradation and climate change contribute to the increasing occurrence of disasters linked to natural hazards.” (UN DESA 2011) And renewable energy has a significant role to play – both in providing sustainable energy solutions in place of climate damaging fossil fuels and by minimising its own impact in the environment degradation chain. “There is an increasing danger of natural disasters being directly triggered by human action or uncontrollable high technology,” states the report. “The nuclear super MCA of Fukushima in March 2011 is the most obvious example of this. Increasingly discussed proposals to permanently manipulate the climate by technological interventions in the shape of “geo-engineering” bear a new dimension of incalculable risks for humans and for nature (ETC Group 2010).” The report rightly puts much emphasis on protecting and restoring our coral reefs and mangroves and how to do that best. However, while renewable energy technologies have a vital role to play in securing the world’s long-term energy future, the sector must also hold steadfast to a general corporate obligation to safeguard the future for all. Whether biomass, offshore or onshore wind, wave and tidal, solar PV – this industry must ensure that for all the good it does in energy supply and reduced emissions in energy generation, it is also minimising its impact in terms of environmental degradation of our natural landscapes and ecosystems. Both when it comes to construction and operation and maintenance of systems. While I know there are many out there who find the demands of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) to be cumbersome and expensive, this report along with countless others, provides just some of the key facts that show exactly why EIAs are essential. This industry has a bigger responsibility than just providing clean energy – it needs to provide that clean energy in a truly safe and sustainable way for the good of all. The November/December issue of Renewable Energy Focus will be looking at off-grid renewables and renewables for small island states, so make sure you subscribe here to secure your copy of the issue.