FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 09

Catastrophic climate change

The last five years were the warmest years ever recorded in 139-year history of the tracking of global heat. Year 2018 was the fourth hottest year ever recorded. Land temperatures have risen more than two degrees Fahrenheit than the 20th century average and experts warn the world will have to cut greenhouse gas emissions well beyond current pledges to make up for lost time or face catastrophic climate changes.

G20 countries are collectively responsible for 78 percent of all emissions, but they are not doing enough to contain global warming within the 1.5-2 degrees Celsius temperature goals established by the Paris Agreement in 2016. According to a recent United Nations report, China and the United States, the two top greenhouse gas emitters, along with Russia and the European Union, are doing too little to tackle the climate crisis. “Emissions need to go down by 55pc by 2030,” said the annual Emissions Gap Report colead author, John Christensen. “There is no way we are going to make it if we don’t step up action as of next year with ambitious plans.”

The report, compiled by the world’s leading scientists, says that even if all commitments made in Paris were to be implemented, temperatures would likely rise – because of previous inaction – up to 3.2C this century, bringing destructive climate change. This means countries are now obliged to increase their joint commitments by more than fivefold, or the 1.5C goal will be out of reach before 2030. Limiting warming to 1.5C is possible, says the report, but doing so requires radical changes in our economic systems as well as in our social habits. The solutions proposed by the report depict a new world that would have to be transformed within just one generation for a reversal of the climate crisis.

The rise of just half a degree in global temperatures means the disappearance of entire ecosystems upon which the survival of half a billion people on the planet depends. A rise of 1.5C puts one million of the world’s 7.6 million species at risk of extinction, and will kill off 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs. A rise of 2C will kill all the world’s coral, cause massive habitats and many insects to disappear, along with shorter rainy seasons, impacting harvests. Each year the Emissions Gap Report measures the gap between the anticipated emissions in 2030 and levels consistent with the 1.5C and 2C targets of the Paris Agreement. The report finds that emissions have been constantly increasing over the past decade, hitting a new high in 2018 of 55.3 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions.

The report suggests electricity should become the main energy source by 2050, with renewables making up at least 85 percent of global consumption. Coal production should be phased out; transport and industry should be decarbonised; energy efficiency should be improved. The transition process would cost between $1.6-3.8 trillion a year globally between the years 2020 and 2050. Developing economic and social policies that encourage materials efficiency, low waste and consumption, reuse and recycling should become a top priority, along with preserving the existing forests and planting new ones.

Experts say the world is still not serious about climate change despite its catastrophic effects. In early November, the US, the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, started its withdrawal procedure from the Paris Agreement, with President Donald Trump stating the accord undermined the US economy. However, in defiance of its president’s climate policies, the state of California committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. China, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter, said it would pursue a path of low-carbon development and announced a partnership that could potentially unlock up to 12 billion tonnes of global emissions reductions. India, the fourth-largest emitter, pledged to increase renewable energy capacity by 2022. The EU, the most attentive to climate change despite its ranking third among the top emitters, said at least 25 percent of the next EU budget would be devoted to climate-related activities. The Russian Federation, the fifth-largest emitter, announced that it would ratify the Paris Agreement, bringing the total number of countries that have joined to 187. US tycoon Michael Bloomberg, now a candidate for the US presidency, announced he would increase the funding and geographic spread of his coal phase-out efforts to 30 countries. His work has helped to close 297 out of 530 coal plants in the US, according to a UN press release.

While the world’s advance countries are responsible for the climate crisis, it is developing and poor countries that are suffering the most. The 10 countries and territories most affected by climate change include Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Haiti, the Philippines, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Thailand, Nepal and Dominica. Pakistan has jumped three places to take fifth position on the Global Climate Risk Index 2020 in the list of nations most affected by climate change. Pakistan was the eighth most vulnerable country in the last year’s report.

Pakistan’s geographical location has made it more prone to extreme weather events, in particular, heavy rainfalls. Between 1998 and 2018, over 10,000 people died due to extreme weather conditions including floods and heatwaves. The economic loss was nearly $4b. Pakistan ranked third among the most affected countries in terms of economic losses over the period. It shows how poor countries are paying the price for the greed of the big polluters. It also shows that climatic hazards, besides having a devastating impact on the ecosystem, also affect the overall development of nations, including public health, agriculture and the economy.

Experts say the coming year will be critical for climate change but warn nations are already too late to tackle the crisis. They should review their commitments upwards in 2020 to close the gap in action and follow up with policies and strategies without delay, they suggest.