The world needs to act now. This is not the time for half-hearted measures but bold and determinant actions
By Mrinal Roy
Our homeland, planet Earth faces an emergency situation. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2021 report prepared by 234 scientists from 66 countries, released this week, is a damning indictment of irresponsible human activities which are causing unprecedented weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. The report was approved last week by 195-member governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session that was held over two weeks starting on 26 July. Our planet is in distress. The world needs to act now.
The IPCC report points out that many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the adverse impacts such as continued sea level rise are already irreversible. It will not be reversible over hundreds to thousands of years, even after emissions fall. Despite the undertaking by 196 signatory countries of the December 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial (1850-1900) levels, some six years later the global average temperature is already about 1.2° Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial level.
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the IPCC report ‘is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells sounded by the scientists are deafening and the evidence is irrefutable’.
According to the studies carried by the IPCC, there is an imminent risk of reaching or crossing the internationally-agreed temperature rise threshold of 1.5 degrees between 2021 and 2040 and most probably in the early 2030s. The world will probably reach or exceed 1.5 degrees C of warming within just the next two decades. However, the IPCC scientists say a catastrophe can be avoided if the world acts fast. There is hope that deep cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases, could quickly make air quality better and stabilise rising global temperatures.
The world would therefore urgently have to significantly cut down carbon emissions to limit world global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C, the temperature ceiling scientists say is necessary for preventing climate change related catastrophes. Past this critical temperature threshold every fraction of a degree of warming would cause disastrous and costly fallouts. In a scenario of unchecked high emissions of greenhouse gases, the world may warm by up to 5.7 degrees C by 2100, with catastrophic consequences for humanity and planet Earth.
In order to measure the gravity of the situation, it should be flagged that the world has not experienced global warming of more than 2.5°C for more than 3 million years.
The damage is already done. Even if carbon emissions are drastically reduced, global warming is now part of the climate system. The world will thus have to face more calamitous and destructive extreme weather events than we are experiencing today. Future generations will have to adapt to these extreme weather conditions
The signs are not good. The IPCC findings also highlight that ‘human activities has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years. They are the principal driver of many changes in snow and ice, oceans, atmosphere and land. In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years and concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide were higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years.
Global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over at least the last 2000 years. Temperatures during the most recent decade (2011–2020) exceed those of the most recent multi-century warm period, around 6500 years ago. Global mean sea level has risen faster since 1900, than over any preceding century in at least the last 3000 years.’
The headlines over the recent weeks have been monopolized by climate change related disasters. Widespread forest fires burning millions of acres in Oregon and California in the United States, Siberia in Russia, Turkey, Greece and Algeria, devastating and deadly flooding in Germany, Belgium and China, extreme temperatures in Canada and Finland, countries known for their cool climate. The Arctic lost an area of sea ice equivalent to the size of Florida between June and mid-July 2021.
Saving our homeland
Saving planet Earth therefore necessarily means taking bold and drastic actions to substantially cut down emissions in the 2020s to limit global warming to1.5 °C. The world also needs to ‘redefine the way in which we use and produce energy, make and consume goods and services and manage our land’. Carbon capture and storage should be part of our arsenal of climate change mitigating strategies, Limiting the dangerous effects of climate change requires the world to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and make major cuts in non-CO2 gases like methane.
The IPCC report shows that no region will be left untouched by the adverse impacts of climate change. Such disastrous climate change related events are expected to multiply and be more destructive. They will continue to affect livelihoods, agriculture, water systems and ecosystems. However, their enormous human and economic costs far outweigh the costs of urgent and timely action.
Any delay in adopting the urgent actions required will cause many of the dire consequences of climate change such as melting ice sheets, rising seas, species loss and more acidic oceans to become irreversible over time. These adverse fallouts will worsen as emissions increase.
Make or break
2020-30 will be the determinant decade to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. If the world fails to drastically curb carbon emissions in the 2020s and reach zero CO2 emissions by 2050, the target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C could get out of hand. The consequences faced by the world would as a result be far more disastrous than the havoc wreaked by the present extreme weather events.
The upshot is that governments across the world must, ahead of the COP26 climate negotiations to be held in Glasgow from 31 October-12 November 2021, significantly beef up their actions to robustly deal with the scale of the climate change crisis and existential threat faced by the world. This inter alia means markedly hiking up their 2030 emissions reduction targets and undertaking to reach net-zero emissions at latest by 2050.
This is a make-or-break situation for the world and people. The world must necessarily choose to do what it takes to save our planet if we want a safer and sustainable future for the young and future generations.
As a Small Island Developing State, Mauritius is particularly vulnerable to the dire fallouts of climate change and rising sea level. Despite all the rhetoric about green and renewable energy, the share of solar energy in the country in 2020 is a paltry 1% and that of wind farms is a mere 0.1%. In contrast, highly polluting and lucrative coal produced 30.7% of the country’s energy requirements in 2020 whereas in line with a dwindling sugar cane production, a decreasing volume of bagasse and cane biomass continued to be the systematically hyped alibi for highly polluting coal and produced only11% of our energy output in 2020.
The energy policy of the country has for too long been held hostage by the vested lobbies bent on monopolizing and increasing the share of lucrative private sector production of electricity, a public good, in the country. The pursuit of Mammon cannot supplant the sustainability and safety of our planet and mankind or public interest. The country’s energy policy thrust and strategy must therefore be urgently recast to significantly increase the share of renewable energy to 35% or more by 2025, eliminate the use of highly polluting coal and markedly reduce the use of fossil fuels. It is equally important to end the monopolies in the energy production sector and open up the shareholding of energy production companies and power plants to the general public and through investment funds.
The world is facing an unprecedented crisis. Time is running out. This is not the time for half-hearted measures but bold and determinant actions to prevent the catastrophic fallouts of climate change. There is no other way if we want save our planet and the people from the dire consequences of an impending climate change Armageddon.
* Published in print edition on 13 August 2021