UF researcher provides policy brief to U.N. Climate Change Conference delegates

Published: December 6 2012

Category:Announcements, InsideUF, Top Stories

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As delegates from around the world gather this week at the Doha Climate Change Conference, they will hear a request for assistance from smaller nations threatened by some of the more disastrous side effects of global warming. University of Florida anthropologist Anthony Oliver-Smith says they should listen.

“The problem is that most of these nations have played very little part in generating climate change, but they are going to be experiencing a lot of the losses that result from it,” Oliver-Smith said.

Climate change models suggest storms like Hurricane Sandy will become more frequent as global temperatures rise, making many coastal and low-lying regions uninhabitable.

Oliver-Smith, an expert on issues relating to natural disasters and forced migration, has served as a consultant to various non-governmental agencies and published numerous books on the subject. Most recently he held a Munich Re Foundation Chair at United Nations University where he researched and gave frequent presentations on social vulnerability, disasters and forced migration.

Developed nations that are being asked to bankroll and manage relief need to understand their role in having created the situation, he said. To that end, Oliver-Smith and four UNU colleagues prepared a policy brief on the subject to be shared by UNU delegates attending the Doha proceedings this week. The document is meant to inform the discussion that is going to take place, he said.

Low-lying island states, in particular, will be asking for help with relocating their people or fortifying their coastline. “We can’t just send a boat to pick them up and dump them on the mainland,” he said. “It’s far more complicated than that.”

The brief also encourages developed nations to consider the savings that could be realized by investing in preparations for climate change. Building or modifying infrastructure that reduces a nation’s vulnerability to natural disasters will be difficult and expensive, he said, but far less costly than recovery operations after a major disaster.

“If you look at the numbers from Hurricane Sandy or Katrina, the costs of reconstruction far outweigh what it would have cost to make those areas more secure in advance of a storm surge,” Oliver-Smith said.

The irony, he said, is that the nations most likely to be wiped out by these storms did not emit the greenhouse gasses that drive climate change. To the contrary, industrialization and globalization have left many of these regions bereft of the resources they need to prepare for sea level rise, bigger storm surges and other effects of climate change.

“These issues have to be taken into account when the global community addresses climate change,” he said. “We can’t abandon these people to the effects of a process that they had no role in generating.”


Donna Hesterman, donna.hesterman@ufl.edu, 352-846-2573
Anthony Oliver-Smith, aros@ufl.edu, 352-377-8359

Category:Announcements, InsideUF, Top Stories