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Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, caused an estimated $90 billion in damage to the U.S. territory. (Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

New Study Warns 5 Billion People Could Face Higher Risk of Climate-Related Coastal Storms, Water Pollution, and Crop Losses by 2050

"If we continue on this trajectory, ecosystems will be unable to provide natural insurance in the face of climate change-induced impacts on food, water, and infrastructure."

Jessica Corbett

By 2050, five billion people across the globe—disproportionately those in poorer communities—could face a higher risk of enduring coastal storms, water pollution, and crop losses linked to the human-caused climate crisis, warns a study published in the journal Science and reported on Thursday by The Scotsman.

"Our analyses suggest that the current environmental governance at local, regional, and international levels is failing to encourage the most vulnerable regions to invest in ecosystems," said study co-author Unai Pascual, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

"If we continue on this trajectory," Pascual added, "ecosystems will be unable to provide natural insurance in the face of climate change-induced impacts on food, water, and infrastructure."

According to The Scotsman:

The research team set out to understand and map where nature contributes the most to people's lives, and how many people might be impacted by climate change and changes in the way fossil fuels are used.

They focused on three areas in which nature is considered to be hugely beneficial to people—water quality regulation, protection from coastal hazards, and crop pollination—and analyzed how they might change using open-source software.

People in Africa and South Asia were projected to be most disadvantaged by "diminishing contributions" from nature.

"Determining when and where nature is most important is critical to understanding how best to enhance people's livelihoods and well-being," said study co-author Stephen Polasky of the University of Minnesota.

The researchers have developed an online, interactive map for their findings. Lead author Becky Chaplin-Kramer of Stanford University said the group hopes the study will help inform and "further galvanize global action."

"We're equipped with the information we need to avert the worst scenarios our models project and move toward an equitable, sustainable future," she added. "Now is the time to wield it."

The study's warnings echo findings from previous research about the near-future consequences of human-driven global warming—such as a study from September on climate-related droughts and wheat production—and come as people around the world have taken to the streets since Monday for Extinction Rebellion's two weeks of action to pressure policymakers to pursue bolder climate action plans.

Alongside demands from scientists and activists that governments worldwide urgently work to transition energy systems away from fossil fuels to fully renewable sources, experts and campaigners are now promoting the restoration of nature to help prevent more catastrophic impacts of rising temperatures.

One such effort is the Natural Climate Solutions campaign, which launched in April and received renewed attention during last month's global climate strikes. It calls for protecting and restoring ecosystems such as forests to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and lock it away to prevent further warming.

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