Is Climate Change an Apocalypse in the Making?

ENVIRONMENT, 17 Feb 2020

Kedar Neupane – TRANSCEND Media Service

Climate Change: What Is It about?

15 Feb 2020 – Unprecedented wildfires across Australia, USA, Amazon, record temperatures, extreme storms and floods across the continents, melting Arctic, sinking low-lying island nations like Fiji, Kiribati, Maldives, the Marshall and the Polynesian Islands due to rising sea water and temperatures do indicate something have already changed in our surroundings. Frequent weather occurrences at the local level have resulted in changing patterns in rain, snow, clouds, winds, thunderstorms, heat/cold waves, draughts and floods. Such periodic weather events of the recent past over a period refer to Climate Change. Climate Change is a long-term global warming that is happening in the Planet Earth whereas weather is about local changes in the climate that we witness around us on shorter time scales.

Most scientists believe rapid changes in the Earth’s surface temperatures since the late 19th century has contributed by a rise of about 1.1 degrees Celsius. This rise in temperature is generally attributed to long-term warming of the Planet Earth, rising sea levels, shrinking mountain glaciers, melting down of ice in Antarctica and Greenland, and shifts in plant life and flowering period due to climate change.

Scientific community believes climate is changing, in extreme, and these changes are largely produced by human activities and contributing to continuing global warming (i.e. surface temperature increase). Rising temperature has increased carbon dioxide (CO2) and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere. Most of this phenomenon has occurred in the last four decades. Climate scientists have credible evidences from warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacier retreat and decreased snow which are the definitive trends, and no longer irrefutable. This fact establishes the climate change reality. Global warming is now largely irreversible unless some drastic emergency measures are implemented and very rapidly. It is, thus, not only an urgent but an emergency issue now.

Concentrations of greenhouse gases like water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone in the atmosphere absorb and remit heat radiation into the atmosphere. Fluctuations in the amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmospheric heating result in unpredictability of the weather and climate. This phenomenon can impact on the severity, scale and frequency of storms, draughts, wildfires, and extreme temperatures. Continued rising temperature is influencing global climate to higher temperatures and it appears to have become irreversible situation.

Climate Change is not a fiction. It is about survival of living beings, and for the better part quality of human life. It is not only about saving the Planet Earth and eco-systems it is about saving humans and all living organisms. To many deniers it sounds a radical thought. But if there are no surviving living beings on this Earth what is the purpose of saving earth?

How Did It All Happen? Why Is It Now an Emergency?

Nations have committed to limiting global warming by 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels for curbing the impacts of global warming at the 2015 Paris Agreement. In October 2018, based on compelling evidences the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) revised the target of limiting to 1.5 degree Celsius as the Earth has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius. This highlights the urgency on mitigating measures. The IPCC concluded that global CO2 emissions must drop 45 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 to cap temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius.

Many societies and communities have now become aware of the climate danger and particularly younger generations who have taken this threat of climate catastrophe extremely seriously whereas many political leaders, industrial giants and business leaders have not shown the same level of urgency.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predictions are scary, to say the least, because the world has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius, much faster than earlier predicted. We now need to limit to 1.5 degree Celsius instead of 2 degree Celsius in shortest possible time, say in the next few years. Scientists believe this target is feasible due to development in science and technology and with new ways of managing social and behavioral economy. The important missing part in this compact is political will of powerful and ambivalent world leaders – which has faltered along the pathways.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a heat trapping (greenhouse gas). Scientists believe that CO2, produced by deforestation, burning fossil fuels and natural events, is currently the most important greenhouse gases related to global warming and 75% of this carbon will not disappear for thousands of years. Thus, Impact of releasing fossil fuel CO2 to the atmosphere will last longer than we may want to imagine because carbon is there ‘forever’ impacting human civilization, or shall we say the ‘survival’ of next generations. This becomes top priority when we are not making significant efforts on reducing escalating global warming situation.

The global warming is largely created by human activities causing increase in global surface temperatures. The long-term rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s climate system is a major aspect of climate change. The effects of global warming include rising sea levels, change in precipitation, frequent extreme weather like heat waves, expansion of deserts, ocean acidification. This is due to increase in surface temperatures and impacts the Artic which, in turn, results in retreating glaciers, permafrost and sea ice. Draughts, sandstorms, dust and wildfires are also the part of the symptoms. Climate change, thus, can have serious economic consequences affecting human survival impacting on low crop yields and creating shortages of agricultural produces. This will aggravate on hunger, malnutrition and health among vulnerable population.

Global warming is causing sea water rise. Melting water from ice sheets and glaciers, and the expanding warm sea water will have created existential threats to low lying islands states and coastal areas. Likewise, ocean warming will cause survival of marine species. Shrinking ice sheets will shrink places like Antarctica and Greenland affecting life and biodiversity. Glacier retreat in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Kilimanjaro will have immeasurable socio-economic impacts. Decreased snow cover will dry up mighty rivers and lakes while melting snow will create floods and eventual shortage of fresh water supply. In nutshell, climate change will have widespread consequences because of changes in sea level, plant life, extinctions of many species, and affect human life and communities.

According to the IPCC there are two clear choices in limiting the global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. Reduce energy demand in the short-term by around a half over the next 10/15 years. Or, develop effective capability for disposing of a large amount of carbon dioxide, particularly the excess amount of CO2 which can’t be dumped into the atmosphere either underground or into the ocean. World needs to accelerate reduction of the excess CO2 because getting rid of CO2 to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius is currently slow and lacks seriousness. The Earth has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius as we are still debating the measures and the climate clock is ticking unabated.

Is Climate Change an Alarming Challenge and a Major Threat to Humanity?

Climate change is a serious threat to people, socio-political economy, ecosystem and the biodiversity of Planet Earth. This will be a major obstacle to sustainable human prosperity. It is the pressing challenge of modern times and has ingredients to create socio-political and economic instability. Extreme weather events like storms, typhoons, heatwaves, cyclones, hurricanes would reduce human productivity and devastate agriculture and life of millions will be in peril. Frequent inundations of communities with floods and landslides will contribute to increase in poverty level and then economic inequality gaps will widen further. This situation will not only result in hunger, malnutrition and poor health in a country alone but extend beyond national boundaries to global level. It will be because of shrinking yields of agriculture-based food products and complicating inequality and distribution of resources. It would be a challenge to provide basic food commodity needs of the growing world population, and eventually contributing to socio-political tensions.

It is alarming to think of impending consequences of rising global temperatures by just half a degree Celsius could results in the loss of millions of people and countless other living species. Lack of fresh water supply and widespread food shortages could be serious enough to destabilized peace and world order. Economic and social costs are beyond our imaginations right now. New conflicts or wars may also ensue for demand for fresh water supply in several parts of the continents. New diseases may emerge and spread due to higher temperatures.

In a true sense, climate change is becoming the biggest single threat to survival of living beings in the modern history for it will have incalculable consequences on the environment, people, eco-systems and biodiversity. It has the potential of triggering imminent destruction of the Planet Earth even though nuclear arms and weapons of mass destructions were considered the biggest threats in the past century. This list of buckets of weapons of mass destruction has one more item added on it, which is the product of human’s own behavior and action.

The effects of global warming would be varying in proportions with long-term implications across all regions and communities. Weather patterns of one region could vary from another due to varying level of rising levels of greenhouse gases and temperature changes for these are not uniform across the Earth. Climate scientists, however, agree that climate change is based on evidences gathered from melting or forming ice, shifting the hydrological cycle (evaporation and precipitation), and changing currents in oceans and air flow into the atmosphere.

Climate scientists wants to achieve reduction of 1.5-degree Celsius target earliest possible and greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by mid-century. This appears to have become a very big challenge for governments and national leaders who are skeptical to what the scientists are telling them. With the rise of political populism, increasingly countries around the globe are appearing reluctant to implement the Paris Agreement (signed by 200 countries and ratified by 181 countries) and have failed to reach a consensus on future action plans at the COP25 Madrid Conference. For the moment, viable target options to achieve 1.5 degree Celsius remain elusive as ever.

As a matter of fact, climate change mitigating actions should not have been confined to the limits of national borders while pursuing the global climate agenda. Countries in both hemispheres, developed North and developing South, people are witnessing every day the wrath of nature’s calamities due to human-induced rising global warming. It is stunning that world leaders are failing to see this truth and urgency even when facts are presented by scientists.

Why the COP25 Madrid Turned into a Conference of Dashed Hope with Mounting Disappointments?

In 2015 the Paris Agreement reached the global limit of a 3.2-degree Celsius increase in this century. Upon review of additional scientific evidences during 2018 IPCC warned that temperature must be kept below 1.5 degree Celsius to avoid catastrophic climate change and the impacts. Given this revised  assessment, COP25 Madrid Conference was supposed to have reached consensus on (i) international carbon trading between nations and levy applied to proceeds from carbon trading to finance adaption in developing countries; (ii) rules and mechanisms to ensure an overall reduction in global emissions; (iii) recognition of human rights of indigenous population against the social and environmental harms caused by previous carbon trading mechanisms; (iv) whether countries could use carbon credits (agreed at the Kyoto Protocol) to meet the commitments under the Paris Agreement.

With a shrewd strategy up its sleeve Australia claimed Kyoto credits to meet more than half of its Paris Agreement commitment. This move came under criticism and clouded negotiating environment adversely. Then Brazil, India, South Korea and China also raised their claims to carry over the credits earned under the Clean Development Mechanism – trading scheme under Kyoto Agreement Protocol. Sadly, things eventually fell apart miserably, and no agreement reached.

Carbon trading issue is a divisive and controversial. This issue has torpedoed the last seven COP meetings and failed to reach any satisfactory decision on carbon market rules. It has frustratingly hijacked the entire COP meeting’s ability to address the future climate change. Upholding the principle of cutting down the gas emissions through carbon trading was not acceptable to several nations. Understandably this proposition is disadvantageous to several emerging and developing nations while it favored richer countries and powerful corporations with extended global reach.

On the issue of mobilization of finance from developed nations no consensus emerged because the US was not playing positive role. It, instead hindered efforts on governance agreement. The group of rich and powerful countries wanted to exclude high-emitting nations from liability for loss and damages experienced by vulnerable countries under climate change. Many observers attribute this failure to the US, Brazil, Australia, Saudi Arabia and major oil, gas and coal companies for undermining the climate ambition and blocking the real progress for better response to global challenge. Agreement on carbon market also failed to reach acceptable outcome. And, the can got again kicked down the lane.

Participating nations were expected to come up with more ambitious emissions reduction targets and adoption action plans at the Madrid Meet than previously agreed at the Paris Agreement. EU could not muster its diplomatic muscle for collective alliance support for a better outcome. Canada, Japan, China and India faltered to support vulnerable nations for a robust collective response. There were frustrations and anger all around, with disappointing weeks and days in Madrid.

In Madrid, world’s governments failed to respond to the climate emergency simply because countries could not agree on effective measures. It is difficult to anticipate if the next COP26 at Glasgow in 2020 will make any headway. Climate emergency, thus, continues without effective mitigating measures seriously in place. In between these periods, millions of people will continue suffering from the impacts of climate change and many more lives likely to be lost. If this is not a crime against humanity than what could it be?

Climate emergency is a real one. We are at the defining moment of the most urgent issues of our lifetime. As we speak Australia continues to engulf in wildfires and surging heatwaves, Asia is inundated with floods while US and Europe are confronting rising temperatures and facing the wrath of winter storms. This situation is aggravating unbated into an Apocalypse of disproportion, unprecedented in history. Some rich and powerful leaders and governments are becoming ever intransigent for political populism and, for the glory of power of high political seat, abandoning moral conscious to saving human lives and Planet Earth impacted by the climate change. Climate change, thus, could become an Apocalypse of the 21st Century.

What Did Davos 2020 Accomplish on Climate Change Action Goals?

Let us just imagine if there occurred some extreme climate events due to rising global temperatures as scientists predict, impacting a combination of extreme hurricanes, typhoons, storm, heatwaves, wildfires and avalanches which would sharply elevate situation and Planet Earth’s biodiversity collapses – resulting in diminished availability of food and supply of fresh water. This is a possibility because of continued inability of world leaders to mount mitigating, but aggressive, global action plans to reduce greenhouse gases swiftly. This pessimism is not unfounded for thousands of decision makers, top business and political leaders, who represented in Davos 2020, collectively failed to recognize this threat and agree on urgent emergency steps to saving humanity from self-perpetuating destruction.

Initially, the Davos 2020 Meet started with optimism for climate change toped the discussion, but top business CEOs appeared to be less ambitious and the climate action derailed off the track. In the meantime, global weather is reportedly warmed by 1 degree Celsius signaling impending global warming increase beyond 3 degree Celsius by the end of this century. So far, both Madrid summit and Davos meet did not achieve the targets and upcoming COP26 at Glasgow remains uncertain if we are to take latest clue from the Davos 2020 Meeting.

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Kedar Neupane is a founding board member of the Nepal Policy Institute, a retired senior UN official, and president of ‘We for Nepal’ association based in Geneva, Switzerland where he lives. He has worked in several countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe in his 38 years of service with the UN system and was Senior Change Management Advisor to UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Email: Neupanek1950@gmail.com


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 17 Feb 2020.

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