Climate Chaos, the Science and Our Own Responsibilities
On the last day of the UN Climate Change (June 17-27, 2019) meeting in Bonn the key IPCC report on 1.5 C was blocked from further discussion by Saudi Arabia and an unlikely set of allies: the US, Iran and Russia. The report as the saying goes has been deep-sixed meriting only a five-para watered down waffle at the end of the agreement, so what next?
If the Paris Agreement was transformative in its democratic innovation, its voluntary aspects opened up the possibility of countries failing to meet their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) targets. These are at the heart of the Paris agreement and their voluntary nature invites democratic engagement — the example of Greta Thunberg and her mushrooming support comes to mind. Even more necessary after the Bonn meeting, democratic pressure on governments is vital to counter the fossil fuel lobby.
Also the climate change debate is framed around two temperature figures, the famous 1.5 C and 2 C scenarios. We need a rallying cry but the fact is temperature is an amorphous goal. We cannot ask countries to reduce temperature by a certain number because the whole earth is involved and it is beyond individual capacities; hence the target NDCs, the rather dull but practical numbers.
When the UN sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change first released its famous (now banished) 1.5 C report last October, it set off alarms. Comprising the work of hundreds of the world’s leading climate scientists, it predicted a grim future and a narrowing window of action. It examined a 1.5 C rise in mean global temperature from preindustrial levels, comparing it with a 2 C rise. We are already experiencing the effects of being 1 degree above, and according to the report should reach the 1.5 C level as early as 2040. The 1.5 C and 2 C figures result from simulation exercises, although by undoubtedly respected and expert scientists.
At 1.5 C above, the report states, 70-90 percent of the world’s sea corals would be lost (with a 2C rise 99 percent would be gone); the Arctic sea ice would be in fast retreat threatening polar bears and raising sea levels; and with higher ocean temperatures we can expect worsened severe storms, rain and flooding.
There is worse for at a 2C rise the cycle becomes self-sustaining, meaning a runaway feedback loop cycle. Clearly the Paris agreement, holding temperature increase to 2C, is no longer viable if we are not to leave behind a raging planet to our children and grandchildren.
Meanwhile, Paris itself is facing a heat wave with temperatures expected to exceed 40 C (104 F) and national records for June temperatures likely to be shattered. Europe as a whole is experiencing the same, although it made little difference to the dissenters in sweltering Bonn. While climate change is usually not blamed directly for short-interval, extreme weather events, a warmer earth is still likely to be an exacerbation, and scientists might well be able to prove a closer link as research in this area matures. At the very least, it makes intuitive sense.
It has already been hot further north. Greenland had temperatures 40 F above normal in mid-June. It caused an early, unprecedented ice melt when it is more usual for big melts to occur in July. On just one day (June 13, 2019), scientists estimated a melt of 2 billion tons. If Greenland experienced a record melt in 2012, then 2019 could be a year that might surpass it. The problem of high temperatures and above normal ice melt spans the Arctic. Moreover in the Antarctic, the coldest regions, long believed to be immune, are beginning to show signs of melting.
Foreshadowing the 1.5 C report, the expected consequence has been a rise in ocean levels. These are already 7 centimeters (about 3 inches) higher than in the 1990s (keyfinding 1) of the Climate Science Special Report. Human-caused climate change is considered a major culprit. The reported rise is accelerating and is now at a rate of 3.9 millimeters a year, or about an inch every 6 years.
Coastal land flooding and loss is no longer just a problem faced by The Maldives in the Indian Ocean, or some Pacific Islands. Low-lying cities like Norfolk, Virginia have begun to flood at high-tide. This nuisance tidal flooding is expected to increase 5 to 10 fold (keyfinding 4).
Changing weather patterns also have other consequences. In California, large fires now burn twice the area they did 50 years ago, and are expected to be tripling that same area by 2050. Future projections point to both larger fires and a longer fire season. Some consequences run counter to presumptions and surprise us. Who would have expected a heat wave in Canada to kill more than 90 people in 2018? It is not the only example. The UK suffered debilitating summer heat in 2018 and 2017, and a heat wave engulfed southern Europe in 2018, where Portugal and Greece were also hit somewhat unusually by wildfires. The same in the Southern Hemisphere, for in Australia the wildfire season now starts earlier, is longer and more devastating. In Spain, a 10,000 acre fire is raging right now, caused by extreme heat self-igniting a manure pile.
The U.S. ‘National Climate Assessment’ last November did not mince words when its overview concluded: “The evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming … the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country.” The assessment is mandated by Congress and affirmed by science agencies of the government.
President Trump, who religiously opposes climate change believing it to be a natural phenomenon that will reverse itself also naturally, had a brief response: “I do not believe it.” About the report’s estimated economic impacts, Sarah Sanders, his then press secretary, claimed the report was “not based on facts.” The “facts” on which the Trump administration reached its conclusions have not been released. The source of these quotes, Science, is the principal organ of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It has labeled the gap between action and what is demanded by the worsening climate-fueled weather disasters as the policy ‘breakdown of the year’. About the current administration, one prominent scientist, the president of the Woods Hole Research Center, was moved to remark, “They’re in la-la-land.”
Sadly this la-la-land is not harmless because the US changing tack on climate action gives other countries leeway to do the same. One example: Brazil’s new (this year) right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, has promised to open more of the Amazon rain forest for development reversing its CO2 capture into more CO2 emission. CO2 happens to be the most sensitive gas to the heat radiation wavelengths reflected from earth, returning more back.
So we have rising temperatures and scientifically ignorant politicians but all is not lost. It is quite likely we will fall short of the 1.5 C target. Yet the plain fact is there will not be a clash of cymbals and the world will not end with a bang. All that will happen will be a greater reliance on carbon capture directly with its fast developing technology, or indirectly through means such as afforestation. In short, to stop hothouse earth, we have to start removing CO2 from the air.
Carbon capture from the atmosphere has been difficult and expensive. A better alternative might be to remove it at the source. That means at power stations and factories, plus there are new processes offering hope. These include a powder that soaks up CO2 before it is expelled into the air. For CO2 already in the atmosphere, there is a resin in the form of resin trees to absorb it, and a company that promises to capture air CO2 and turn it into fuel. Yet most carbon emission comes from transportation, so it also points to a future of electric cars.
That is also the thesis of Greg Ballard’s book, “Less Oil or More Caskets.” The book’s title refers to the human and military cost of protecting the free flow of oil. A former Marine Lt. Colonel and two-term Republican mayor of Indianapolis, he is a long-term advocate of electric cars and rapid-transit electric buses, the latter underway in Indianapolis. He even managed to secure federal grants despite Trump’s opposition, proving both that Trump is not unassailable and a few Republicans are finally seeing the light.
Another avenue of individual involvement is dietary change for a sustainable future — in itself clearly at odds with the zealous consumption of meat in rich countries. Ruminants release methane through belching as food passes through their several stomachs. Over their agricultural cycle, cattle alone emit 270,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas per tonne of protein, many times more than poultry. As some have noted if cows were a country, they would rank third in greenhouse gas emissions. Hence the Beyond Burger type of substitutes from vegetable sources. If it doesn’t quite make the taste test for some, there is the intriguing potential of lab-grown meat — no animals involved.
This and other innovations have been described not unappetizingly in the National Geographic. For example, crickets are an excellent source of protein offering more protein per pound than beef and their production leaves a tiny ecological footprint in comparison. Ground up into powder, this protein can be added to flour or other foods. Kernza is a perennial grain and a substitute for wheat and corn but without their annual tilling which robs the soil of nutrients and also causes erosion. There is also a new oil made from algae. Sourced originally from the sap of a German chestnut tree, it has been developed further to yield more oil, and is being sold under the name Thrive. With a neutral taste and high smoke point, it makes an excellent substitute for the environmentally destructive palm oil, where plantations have ravaged forests in Indonesia and imperiled orangutans.
All this innovation demonstrates that although the window to act narrows by the day, climate change is not unassailable, provided there is the wherewithal (clearly absent in this administration) to make the urgent and necessary changes in public policy — for example, investment in carbon capture research to make costs viable. In addition, we need the commitment to make changes in our own lives.
Author’s Note: This article first appeared on Counterpunch.
A liveable future for all is possible, if we take urgent climate action
A major UN “report of reports” from the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), outlines the many options that can be taken now, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to human-caused climate change.The study, “Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report”, released on Monday following a week-long IPCC session in Interlaken, brings into sharp focus the losses and damages experienced now, and expected to continue into the future, which are hitting the most vulnerable people and ecosystems especially hard.
Temperatures have already risen to 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a consequence of more than a century of burning fossil fuels, as well as unequal and unsustainable energy and land use. This has resulted in more frequent and intense extreme weather events that have caused increasingly dangerous impacts on nature and people in every region of the world.
Climate-driven food and water insecurity is expected to grow with increased warming: when the risks combine with other adverse events, such as pandemics or conflicts, they become even more difficult to manage.
Time is short, but there is a clear path forward
If temperatures are to be kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, deep, rapid, and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reductions will be needed in all sectors this decade, the reports states. Emissions need to go down now, and be cut by almost half by 2030, if this goal has any chance of being achieved.
The solution proposed by the IPCC is “climate resilient development,” which involves integrating measures to adapt to climate change with actions to reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions in ways that provide wider benefits.
Examples include access to clean energy, low-carbon electrification, the promotion of zero and low carbon transport, and improved air quality: the economic benefits for people’s health from air quality improvements alone would be roughly the same, or possibly even larger, than the costs of reducing or avoiding emissions
“The greatest gains in wellbeing could come from prioritizing climate risk reduction for low-income and marginalized communities, including people living in informal settlements,” said Christopher Trisos, one of the report’s authors. “Accelerated climate action will only come about if there is a many-fold increase in finance. Insufficient and misaligned finance is holding back progress.”
Governments are key
The power of governments to reduce barriers to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, through public funding and clear signals to investors, and scaling up tried and tested policy measures, is emphasized in the report.
Changes in the food sector, electricity, transport, industry, buildings, and land-use are highlighted as important ways to cut emissions, as well as moves to low-carbon lifestyles, which would improve health and wellbeing.
“Transformational changes are more likely to succeed where there is trust, where everyone works together to prioritize risk reduction, and where benefits and burdens are shared equitably,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee.
“This Synthesis Report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all.”
UN chief announces plan to speed up progress
In a video message released on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the report as a “how-to guide to defuse the climate time-bomb.”
Climate action is needed on all fronts: “everything, everywhere, all at once,” he declared, in a reference to this year’s Best Film Academy Award winner.
The UN chief has proposed to the G20 group of highly developed economies a “Climate Solidarity Pact,” in which all big emitters would make extra efforts to cut emissions, and wealthier countries would mobilize financial and technical resources to support emerging economies in a common effort to ensure that global temperatures do not rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Mr. Guterres announced that he is presenting a plan to boost efforts to achieve the Pact through an Acceleration Agenda, which involves leaders of developed countries committing to reaching net zero as close as possible to 2040, and developing countries as close as possible to 2050.
The Agenda calls for an end to coal, net-zero electricity generation by 2035 for all developed countries and 2040 for the rest of the world, and a stop to all licensing or funding of new oil and gas, and any expansion of existing oil and gas reserves.
These measures, continued Mr. Guterres, must accompany safeguards for the most vulnerable communities, scaling up finance and capacities for adaptation and loss and damage, and promoting reforms to ensure Multilateral Development Banks provide more grants and loans, and fully mobilize private finance.
Looking ahead to the upcoming UN climate conference, due to be held in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December, Mr. Guterres said that he expects all G20 leaders to have committed to ambitious new economy-wide nationally determined contributions encompassing all greenhouse gases, and indicating their absolute emissions cuts targets for 2035 and 2040.
Journey to net-zero ‘picks up pace’
Achim Steiner, Administrator, of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) pointed to signs that the journey to net-zero is picking up pace as the world looks to the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference or COP28 in the United Arab Emirates.
“That includes the Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S., described ‘the most significant legislation in history to tackle the climate crisis’ and the European Union’s latest Green Deal Industrial Plan, a strategy to make the bloc the home of clean technology and green jobs,” he said.
“Now is the time for an era of co-investment in bold solutions. As the narrow window of opportunity to stop climate change rapidly closes, the choices that governments, the private sector, and communities now make — or do not make – will go down in history.”
A Treaty to Preserve Oceans – And Our World
There is cause for celebration in our climatically distressed world for a treaty of historic proportions has been signed by the UN member states. It is the culmination of 15 years of talks and discussions.
Vital to the preservation of 30 percent of our earth, i.e. land and ocean, the oceans treaty broke many political barriers. The EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius applauded the event saying it was a crucial step towards preserving marine life and its essential biodiversity for generations to come.
The UN Secretary General commended the delegates, his spokesperson calling the agreement a “victory for multilateralism and for global efforts to counter the destructive trends facing oceanhealth, now and for generations to come.”
The real problem is the oceans belong to no one — and thus available to everyone — because the exclusive economic zones of countries end beyond 200 nautical miles (370 kms) from their coastlines.
These high seas are threatened by overfishing, man-made pollution including damaging plastics, and also climate change. People are unaware that oceans create half the oxygen we breathe, and help in containing global warming by absorbing the carbon dioxide released by human activities — one can think of all the coal and wood fires, particularly in developing countries, and the coal-fired power stations everywhere among other uses of fossil fuels.
The fact is we have to value the environment that nurtures us for the consequences of our disregard can in the final analysis destroy life itself. As it stands, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports in its 2022 Living Planet Index a 69 percent decrease in monitored populations since 1970, a mere half century. Their data analyzed 32,000 species.
As the apex species, such a loss forces humans to assume responsibility. It rests on each and everyone of us from individuals to governments to corporate entities, and across the spectrum of human activity.
The treaty furnishes legal tools to assist in creating protected areas for marine life; it also requires environmental assessments for intended commercial activity … like deep sea mining for example. The nearly 200 countries involved also signed a pledge to share ocean resources. All in all, it has been a triumph of common sense over the individual greed of people and nations.
So it is that the treaty has made possible the 30×30 target, namely, to protect 30 percent of oceans by 2030. Now comes the hard work of organizing the protection. Who will police the areas? Who will pay for it?
Environmental Crisis in South Asian Countries
During thetwenty-first century, South Asian countries have been facing and dealing with enormous problems. But the environmental crisis is one of the major and most emerging issues. South Asia is the southern part of the continent Asia, which is also known as the Asian societies. Mainly consist of eight countries India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sir Lanka, and Bangladesh. Most of the environmental problem has been started after the 1960s due to high economic activities, population growth, industrialization, urbanization, and poverty. The combined effects of all these factors caused the situation more complex because of less management of negative and deviant behavior in economic activities. South Asian countries are the developing region that mainly constitutes middle-income countries struggling to flourish their economies and to cope with challenges of political and environmental sustainability, although they are still yet facing many environmental crises which are highly interactive, interlinked with human activities and also human life which it is the need of the hour to be addressed.
Population Density and Population Pressure
Population growth is one of the major elements which play an important role in environmental crises. As all the South Asian developing countries have an extensive density of populations such as India which considers the world second most populated country after China, because the growing population in all South Asian countries, it’s put tremendous population strain on natural and environmental resources such as increase the extraction of resources from the environment influence negatively in our environment. The Intergovernmental Panel Discussion (IPCC) on climate change says that most of the environmental crises are attributed to human activities. The population of Pakistan is also increasing at the rate of 1.9 % annual changes and the population of other South Asian countries is also not up to the mark, but increasing day by day which adversely affects the economy and the natural setting of the environment.
Climate change is also a major problem. South Asian developing counties are vulnerable to climate change-related disasters. The history of Pakistan, and Bangladesh showed how much they suffered due to climate flood disasters. Pakistan and India are facing the brunt of extreme weather almost every year. Being affected by environmental problems severely influence economic activities in the summer of 2022 due to “Heat Waves” in India and Pakistan, “Flood Crisis” in Pakistan last year affected the largest region about one–third of the whole country. Melting glaciers in Pakistan, almost twenty glacier bodies in Nepal, and twenty-five in Bhutan are so unsafe glacial water bodies. Land erosion in India, and Nepal land erosion, and land sliding. With rising sea levels in Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan it is expected that by 2050 most of them swallowed by the sea. This climate condition is not new for this region, according to the World Bank Report 750 million people across South Asian societies are impacted by the last almost 20 years. In Afghanistan, farmers face climate-induced drought, and nearly 19 million Afghans are unable to feed themselves and almost 5 million people across India and Bangladesh. According to the climate change risk index Bangladesh and Pakistan ranked sixth and seventh while India ranked fourth among them respectively. A recent report of intergovernmental on climate change called “Code Red for Humanity” by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, it is predicted that in the next two decades, global warming will increase up to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Almost all Asian societies adversely face the problem of pollution associated with indoor and outdoor elements which may be the source of pollution. With the increase of demographic pressure and urbanization, pollution is also considered a vital concern in South Asian countries. Due to industrialization, transportation, burning of coal, and biomass, excessive use of metals, and soil depletion of natural resources and minerals merely falls under the category of pollution. According to the report of the Air Quality Life Index Pakistan is the fourth most pollution-causing country in the world and India is the second most polluted country in the world and number one in Bangladesh. Excess methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, sulfur, and insoluble and soluble materials emitted by vehicles and industries are harmful effects on humans such as lung cancer, asthma, and water-borne diseases. It badly influences plants and animals.
Water scarcity is a major concern in almost every region. South Asian countries have become water-default regions due to population exploitation, and unplanned urbanization. Almost 90- 95 of water is consumed by agriculture and industries, and there is insufficient storage and a wasteful irrigation method. Per capita, water availability is less than the world average and 4.5% of freshwater resources availability. Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan face varying degrees of water scarcity. Groundwater depletion caused by irrigation, agriculture runoff, industries, and the unregulated release of sewage needs a major concern. Along with scarcity of water quality and quantity, both are also affected by the reduction in the quantity of water because of the recession of glaciers and disruption in the monsoon.
Furthermore, global warming is also a main issue that is observed globally it is specifically due to human activities primarily the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, and petroleum, fire burning, and along with the emission of harmful gases. South Asian countries are the major source of carbon dioxide, so it is a crucial component in global warming. However many South Asian countries implement a tax on the use of carbon-related components, a form of small fiscal policy to reduce the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere.
In addition to all these South Asia approximately uses only 5.9 % of global energy resources excluding the non- commercial energy resources. South Asian counties have increased the demand for energy in the last few decades, increasing demand by up to 50% since 2000. The rising energy demand is induced by population growth and the manufacturing sector. All the south Asian countries have increased the demand for electricity on average by more than five percent annually over the past two decades and are expected for the future that requires more than double by 2050. More than two third of the energy is imported. So it put pressure to increase cost recovery if the demand increase. In South Asia, disruptions due to conflict among other countries adversely impact fuel imports and put greater pressure on the government to ensure the security of their energy supply.
South Asian countries are major part and contributors to the world economy. Due to the crisis, economic activities were destroyed and diminished in many regions, because of damage to productivity and infrastructure, security threats, and mass migration, as the results growth rate declined and the world economy gets affected. Globally, all the economies of the world somehow depend upon each other for trade. To facilitate this connection it is necessary to maintain a balance. There are many organizations are working in South Asian countries to control the environmental crisis, such as the intergovernmental organization of South Asia Co-operative Environment Program (SACEP). Climate Action Network of South Asia, South Asian form for the environment. So the main purpose of all these organizations is to provide support, protection, and management in context to contribute in terms of sustainable development, along with issues of economic and social development. In addition to all these, urgent action is needed to curb all the challenges. The most immediate and pragmatic step to cope with the challenges is to make a collective UN committee for collaboration among the countries, reduce the global emission of harmful gases, decarbonize the energy sector, educate people to spread awareness among people start campaigns related to the protection of environmental at county level, uses of renewable resources, new policy initiation, formulation, and Implementation.
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