As the world watches a potential cataclysm unfold on the Korean peninsula, it is perhaps understandable that few people are paying attention to the latest round of UN climate talks due to start in the German city of Bonn on November 6. While we remain uncertain how Kim Jung-un's game of missile caber tossing will play out, we are rather surer how a warming planet will affect us. The progress made in Bonn matters.
This year the monsoon rains, though less deadly than in previous seasons, have led to over a thousand deaths across the Indian sub-continent. Mumbai come to a halt during a recent deluge. Few escaped the images from Houston, where a "once in 500 year" hurricane hit the city for the third time in almost as many decades.
Mitigation has certainly improved the chances of surviving the monsoon season. In Bangladesh, Dhaka is better protected than ever thanks to some wise investments. Once the waters recede in American's fourth largest city, no doubt authorities will reassess what can be done to reduce the impact of future weather systems. Sadly, Texas need only look as far as New Jersey and New Orleans for some pointers.
Yet mitigation is only a sticking plaster upon a gaping wound. Louisiana lost 300 square miles of land between 2004 and 2008 because of rising sea levels. The state plans to spend some $50 billion in an effort to reclaim some of the submerged area. At least King Canute's idea was cheaper and only slightly more futile. Many Pacific Islands are on the brink of disappearing into the ocean.
A recent Netflix documentary, Chasing Coral, highlighted the severe destruction being caused to the coral reefs by increasing ocean temperatures. In many places, up to 75% of the reef is already dead. A broad comparison is to imagine that up to 75% of the world's forests suddenly died. Aside from the outrage it would cause, the damage to our economy and the planet's ecology would be hard to quantify. It is sobering to reflect this is the state of our oceans.
There is some hope. With the notable exception of the United States, the world has signed up to the Paris Agreement. This aims to keep the rise in the global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. With the right incentives, the world's creative minds could spend less time working on the next flashy consumer device and instead create new technologies to limit, or even reverse, the damage to our climate. The climate talks in November should aim to address this.
With the uncertainty caused by Trump, Brexit, a bratty North Korea and a host of other important political issues, it is easy to lose sight of the existential threat to our way of life climate change represents. The more we remind ourselves that climate change is the generational issue of our time, the better.