Global Warming Forecast: Cloudy With a Chance of Forced Migration and Obedience to Russia

If global temperatures rise by just four degrees celsius, the forecast is cloudy with a chance of obliteration.

Parag Khanna:  If global temperatures rise four degrees Celsius above the 1990 baseline temperature level used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, and that may happen by 2040, 2050 or around that time based on present temperature sort of rise trajectory. That would have a very devastating impact on global food production. Right now the countries of the world that are the largest food producers such as the United States, Brazil, China, India, Australia – if the temperature rise by four degrees Celsius several decades from now it could be that the food production is generally wiped out in many of those geographies because of desertification, crop failure and so forth. Already there’s a lack of sufficient water irrigation and fresh water supply for agriculture in Australia. We see water tables falling in the western United States and so forth. Meanwhile if temperatures do rise to that degree and in fact temperatures rise the fastest in the northern latitudes of the world and the southern latitudes in other words at the poles. Whereas sea levels rise fastest at the equator. And so what we’ll find is that in a world that’s four degrees Celsius warmer a large amount of the world’s food production is predicted to take place in today’s Canada and Russia.

Now Canada and Russia are the two largest countries in the world by geographic territory. But they are also perhaps ironically two of the world’s most depopulated countries. Their populations are very small and very concentrated in very, very small areas. Most of the Canadian population for example lives very close to the United States border. And most of Russia’s population lives west of the Euro mountains very close to Eastern Europe. Whereas about six-sevenths of Russia’s territory, this vast geography known, a large chunk of it is known as Siberia for example is largely uninhabited. But if you project forward where food will be grown in a world that is that much warmer in fact these depopulated areas of Canada and Russia may be the world’s breadbaskets. The problem is there’s no people. And so of course we would have to think about who are the people who are going to live there? Might we need to have population transfers and mass migrations for people to work in the agricultural sector or to develop the agribusiness industries of these countries to feed the planet.

Because after all it will not be the United States and Canada, the United States and China and India and Australia and Brazil that are feeding the world. It’ll be Canada and Russia that are feeding the world. So the food supply chain on a global basis is going to shift and move and become much more dependent on these northern geographies. And so this is the prediction that a number of scientists have made and that’s of course going to require a significant rethinking of the meaning of political geography when we depend so much on just two countries for our food.

The second great megatrend of the twenty-first century besides global connectivity of infrastructure is mass urbanization. The rate at which people are moving into cities has never been so rapid. And it’s happening all over the world, particularly in developing countries – in Africa, in south Asia, in East Asia. On an aggregate basis most of the world’s population already lives in cities and may people predict that will grow to two-thirds of the world population by just the year 2030 or 2035. And in Asia which is a microcosm if you will for this phenomenon worldwide, the populations are clustering around the oceans coasts. So we are much more a global urban coastal network civilization, right. In other words mankind lives on the ocean’s coasts in megacities on all the continents. That’s the correct way to understand who we are as a species. Not a world divided into 200 sovereign nations, some large some small, you know, some landlocked, some not. We as a species concentrate of coastal megacities. That is what we are doing. That’s what we have done. And so that has all sorts of implications because these cities rely very much on openness to trade. They depend on shipping. They depend on transportation. They depend on logistics and supply chains for food, for technology, for finance, for energy. You name it.

So it becomes a world in which openness and connectivity are absolutely paramount and in which rather than fighting wars over territory for the sake of having a larger territory it’s much more about insuring connectivity and supply chain so that all of the things, the good and the services and the money on which these cities depend will flow freely and openly. And that seems to be the way the world is going right now. There are a number of scenarios where this situation could be reversed. But the most profound of which is what happens as sea levels rise, particularly in the tropical latitude or the equatorial latitudes because that’s where the most number of people are and those people are living on the ocean’s coasts. So if sea levels were to rise as extremely as some scientists predict they might you would have coastal inundations of water. You would have surges. You may even have the necessity of people retreating inland from those cities. And so we would have to build secondary infrastructures. We would have to move to higher elevations in fact. And so the irony of becoming a coastal urban civilization at a time when sea levels rise is that this may be the worst time for us to be doing that because of the climate change and the sea levels rise that we have brought about.

Global warming is no longer the problem of our children. Many of us will still be here in 30 to 40 years to feel the blistering heat and deal with the ensuing problems. The weather, of course, is one of them. Changes of just a few degrees lead to less water, and farmers struggling to successfully grow their crops to harvest.


If the heat keeps rising the way it has now, by 2040 to 2050 there will be a huge downturn in food and water supplies. And we’ll all be older, wiser, and wondering what else we could have done to lessen the blow. The changes are already evident, as Parag Khanna points out: there’s a lack of sufficient water irrigation and fresh water supply for agriculture in Australia, and water tables falling in the western United States.

According to Khanna - who is a CNN Global Contributor, author, and a global strategist - right now the United States, Brazil, China, India, and Australia are leading the way in food production. But with changing weather patterns and water shortages, this is going to change. Desertification can, and most likely will, set in, killing off the major farms. This means the bigger food suppliers will have to move up north, in places such as Russia and Canada. These two countries have the biggest land masses in the world but are largely empty, with most of their populations packed into relatively small urban areas. And because they’re already cold, the rising worldwide temperature may work in these areas’ favor. But Khanna asks: who will live there, in these remote places with no infrastructure? Will there be population transfers and mass migrations for people to work in the agricultural sector?

A second kind of migration in reaction to climate change will shift the global population away from the shores. We are a coast-loving civilization. When populating new cities, colonists typically stayed on the shores or followed rivers. These colonies, that became megacities, are dependent on trade, which will be handy for when the food supply changes origins. But not so much as the sea levels continue to rise. Many people may be forced inland, and to elevated ground, dragging what they can of their cities with them before we end up with thousands of new Atlantis-es.

Parag Khanna's most recent book is Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization.

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Hold your breath at Marble Arch!

Air pollution up to five times over the EU limit in Central London hotspots

  • Dirty air is an invisible killer, but an effective one.
  • A recent study estimates that more than 9,000 people die prematurely in London each year due to air pollution.
  • This map visualises the worst places to breathe in Central London.

The Great Smog of 1952

London used to be famous for its 'pea-soupers': combinations of smoke and fog caused by burning coal for power and heating.

All that changed after the Great Smog of 1952, when weather conditions created a particularly dense and persistent layer of pollution. For a number of days, visibility was reduced to as little as one foot, making traffic impossible. The fog even crept indoors, leading to cancellations of theatre and film showings. The episode wasn't just disruptive and disturbing, but also deadly: according to one estimate, it directly and indirectly killed up to 12,000 Londoners.

Invisible, but still deadly

Image: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

After the shock of the Great Smog, the UK cleaned up its act, legislating to replace open coal fires with less polluting alternatives. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is hoping for a repeat of the movement that eradicated London's smog epidemic, but now for its invisible variety.

The air in London is "filthy, toxic", says Khan. In fact, poor air quality in the British capital is a "public health crisis". The city's poor air quality is linked not just to thousands of premature deaths each year, but also to a range of illnesses including asthma, heart disease and dementia. Children growing up in areas with high levels of air pollution may develop stunted lungs, with up to 10% less capacity than normal.

Image: Transport for London

ULEZ phases 1 and 2, and LEZ

Khan has led a very active campaign for better air quality since his election as London Mayor in 2016. Some of the measures recently decided:

  • Transport for London has introduced 2,600 diesel-electric hybrid buses, which is said to reduce emissions by up to 40%.
  • Mr Khan has pledged to spend £800 million on air quality over a five-year period.
  • Uber fares will rise by 15p (20¢) to help drivers buy electric cars.
  • Since the start of 2018, all new single-decker buses are zero-emission and all new taxis must be hybrid or electric.
  • Mr Khan has added a T-charge on the most toxic vehicles entering the city. On 8 April, the T-charge will be replaced by an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), contiguous with the Congestion Charge Zone.
  • The ULEZ is designed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter by charging vehicles who don't meet stringent exhaust emission standards.
  • By October 2020, a Low-Emission Zone (LEZ), applicable to heavy commercial vehicles, will cover most of Greater London.
  • By October 2021, the ULEZ will expand to cover a greater part of Central London.

Central London's worst places for breathing

Image: Steven Bernard / Financial Times

Heathrow (bottom left on the overview map) is another pollution hotspot

What worries experts is that despite considerable efforts already made, levels of air pollution stubbornly refuse to recede – and remain alarmingly high in locations where traffic flows converge.

It's not something you'd think of, given our atmosphere's fluctuating nature, but air pollution hotspots can be extremely local – as this map demonstrates.

One important lesson for all Londoners: don't inhale at Marble Arch! Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are five times the EU norm – the highest in the city. Traffic permitting, quickly cross Cumberland Gate to Speakers' Corner and further into Hyde Park, where levels sink back to a 'permissible' 40 milligrams per cubic meter. Now you can inhale!

Almost as bad: Tower Hill (4.6 times the EU norm) and Marylebone Road (4 times; go to nearby Regent's Park for relief).

Also quite bad: the Strand (3.9), Piccadilly Circus (3.8), and Hyde Park Corner (also 3.8), Victoria (3.7) and Knightsbridge (3.5), the dirty trio just south of Hyde Park.

Elephant & Castle is the only pollution hotspot below the Thames and, perhaps because it's relatively isolated from other black spots, also the one with the lowest multiplication factor (2.8 times the maximum level).

On the larger map, the whole of Central London, including its relatively NO2-free parks, still shows up as more polluted than the outlying areas. Two exceptions flare up red: busy traffic arteries; and Heathrow Airport (in the bottom left corner).

Image: Mike Malone, CC BY SA 4.0

Traffic congestion on London's Great Portland Street

So why is Central London's air pollution problem so persistent? In part, this is because the need for individual transport in cars seems to be inelastic. For example, the Congestion Charge has slashed the number of vehicles entering Central London by 30%, but the number of (CC-exempt) private-hire vehicles entering that zone has quadrupled over the same period.

Cycling has really taken off in London. But despite all pro-cycling measures, a wide range of other transport options and car-dissuading measures, central London is still a very congested place. Average traffic speeds on weekdays has declined to 8 miles (13 km) per hour – fittingly medieval speeds, as the road network was largely designed in medieval times.

Narrow streets between high buildings, filled to capacity with slow-moving traffic are a textbook recipe for semi-permanent high levels air pollution.

The large share of diesel vehicles on London's streets only increases the problem. Diesel vehicles emit lower levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) than petrol cars, which is why their introduction was promoted by European governments.

However, diesels emit higher levels of the highly toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) than initial lab tests indicated. Which is why they're being phased out now.

As bad as Delhi, worse than New York

Image: Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

By some measures, London's air quality is almost as bad as New Delhi's.

By some measures, especially NO2, London's air pollution is nearly as bad as big Asian cities such as Beijing or New Delhi, and much worse than other developed cities such as New York and Madrid.

The UK is bound to meet pollution limits as set down in the National Air Quality objectives and by EU directives, for example for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

  • Particulate matter (PM2.5) consists of tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter emitted by combustion engines. Exposure to PM2.5 raises the mortality risk of cardiovascular diseases. The target for PM2.5 by 2020 is 25 µg/m3. All of London currently scores higher, with most areas at double that level.
  • Mainly emitted by diesel engines, NO2 irritates the respiratory system and aggravates asthma and other pre-existing conditions. NO2 also reacts with other gases to form acid rain. The limit for NO2 is 40 µg/m3, and NO2 levels must not exceed 200 µg/m3 more than 18 times a year. Last year, London hit that figure before January was over.

Google joins fight against air pollution

Image: laszlo-photo, CC BY SA 2.0

Elephant & Castle, London.

Studies predict London's air pollution will remain above legal limits until 2025. Sadiq Khan – himself an asthma sufferer – is working to make London's air cleaner by measures great and small. Earlier this week, he announced that two of Google's Street View cars will be carrying air quality sensors when mapping the streets of London

Over the course of a year, the two cars will take air quality readings every 30 metres in order to identify areas of London with dangerous levels of air pollution that might be missed by the network of fixed sensors. An additional 100 of those fixed sensors will be installed near sensitive locations and known pollution hotspots, doubling the network's density.

It's all part of Breathe London, a scheme to map the British capital's air pollution in real time. Breathe London will be the world's largest air quality monitoring network, said Mr Khan, launching the scheme at Charlotte Sharman Primary School in the London borough of Southwark.

Up to 30% of the school's pupils are said to be asthma sufferers. Charlotte Sharman is close to Elephant & Castle, as the above map shows, one of Central London's air pollution hotspots.

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