FeaturedInternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 19

Bracing for a serious climate crisis

The world braces itself for a more serious climate crisis after pandemic lockdowns have eased and economic activity begins. In fact, climate change and its catastrophic effects could be even worse when life returns to normalcy after Covid-19 passes.

Besides claiming almost 300,000 lives in the world, Covid-19 also hampered global efforts to address climate change, which is feared to be more difficult to tackle after the pandemic ends. Global warming has already made parts of the world hotter than the human body can withstand, decades earlier than climate models expected. Measurements at Jacobabad in Pakistan and Ras al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates have both repeatedly spent at least 1 or 2 hours over a deadly threshold, an analysis of weather station data has found. Wet bulb temperature (TW) is a measure of heat and humidity, taken from a thermometer covered in a water-soaked cloth. Beyond a TW threshold of 35°C, the body is unable to cool itself by sweating. Lower levels can also be deadly, as was seen in the 2003 European heatwave, which killed thousands of people without passing a TW of 28°C.

Tom Matthews at Loughborough University, UK, and his colleagues analysed weather station data from around the world, and found that the frequency of wet bulb temperatures exceeding a series of temperature intervals between 27°C and 35°C had all doubled since 1979. Most frequency increases were in the Gulf, India, Pakistan, the US and Mexico. But at Jacobabad and Ras al Khaimah, a TW of 35°C appears to have been passed, the first time the breach has been reported in scientific literature. An analysis of that data set suggested several wider areas of the Gulf, not just a few hotspots, will see the possibility of a TW of 35°C happening once every 30 years at around 2.3°C of global warming. The world has already warmed about 1°C. The report warns that with continued climate change, the extremes will affect more areas in Pakistan, as well as India, which may not have the capacity to adapt. Even if they could, it would require huge amounts of energy for cooling, possibly further exacerbating climate change.

The most recent data from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) shows global carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rising sharply despite lockdowns in the world. In April 2020, the average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was  the highest since measurements began in Hawaii in 1958. Furthermore, ice core records indicate that such levels have not been seen in the last 800,000 years.

While it is true that vehicular and air traffic, as well as industrial activity, has reduced sharply in most parts of the world since January 2020, this is not the case with the electricity supply: 64 per cent of the global electricity energy mix comes from fossil fuels (coal: 38 per cent, gas: 23 per cent, oil: 3 per cent), according to the World Energy Outlook 2019. Heating systems have been functioning as before Covid-19. None of the fundamentals have changed (such as the shift to renewable energy, public transport, deforestation). Forest fires and wildfires that are increasing in likelihood and severity due to climate change continue to affect swathes of Brazil, Honduras, Myanmar, Thailand, and Venezuela, each fire emitting large amounts of additional CO2.

Experts warn that humanity’s “promiscuous treatment of nature” needs to change or there will be more deadly pandemics such as Covid-19. Deforestation and other forms of land conversion are driving exotic species out of their evolutionary niches and into manmade environments, where they interact and breed new strains of disease. Three-quarters of new or emerging diseases that infect humans originate in animals, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it is human activity that multiplies the risks of contagion.

Water shortages may loom in the future of 1.3 billion people living downstream from the Himalayas in Nepal, due to climate change, says new research from Ball State University. A four-year analysis by faculty and students from Ball State and Kathmandu University in Nepal found that retreating glaciers and snowpack loss threaten the area that relies upon seasonal melt for domestic water resources. “As the glaciers continue to shrink, not only will the local communities face water shortages during the Winter dry season and the Spring/Summer during the pre-monsoon season, but continued melting will impact the major rivers which supply over 1 billion people downstream. Ten major rivers, including the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers, originate in the Himalaya and supply freshwater to 1.3 billion people living in its watershed,” it warned.

More than three billion people will be living in places with “near unliveable” temperatures by 2070, according to a new study. Unless greenhouse gas emissions fall, large numbers of people will experience average temperatures hotter than 29C, reported the BBC. This is considered outside the climate “niche” in which humans have thrived for the past 6,000 years. Researchers used data from United Nations population projections and a 3C warming scenario based on the expected global rise in temperature. A UN report found that even with countries keeping to the Paris climate agreement, the world was on course for a 3C rise. According to the study, human populations are concentrated into narrow climate bands with most people residing in places where the average temperature is about 11-15C. A smaller number of people live in areas with an average temperature of 20-25C.

People have mostly lived in these climate conditions for thousands of years. However should, global warming cause temperatures to rise by three degrees, a vast number of people are going to be living in temperatures considered outside the “climate niche”. The study raises concerns about those in poorer areas who will be unable to shelter from the heat.

Experts say environmental degradation now affects our lives in ways that are becoming impossible to ignore, from food to jobs to security. The irony is that most countries, which are worst affected by climate change, like Pakistan, have not contributed to the problem. They are paying the price for the greed and reckless policies of the advanced countries. Leading climate scientists have warned that our current actions are not enough to meet our target of 1.5C of warming. We need to do more to save the planet and ourselves.

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