FeaturedInternationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 18

Climate change summit: Too little too late?

It is heartening to see world leaders coming together on climate change. However, they will have to make good on promises to clear their mess to save themselves and other countries, like Pakistan, which have not contributed to the problem at all but are facing its worst consequences.

In a significant move, US President Joe Biden Biden, during a virtual climate change summit hosted from the White House, also promised to cut his country’s greenhouse gas pollution by 50-52pc by 2030. Japan and Canada also raised climate commitments during the summit that involved 40 world leaders while the European Union and Britain announced stronger climate targets. According to Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry, more than half of the world’s economy has now pledged action to stop warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a goal set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. However, it is yet to be seen whether the world leaders will translate their words into action or if they are too late to face the challenge.

Biden’s call for modernizing US infrastructure to operate more cleanly would provide long-term benefits for the US economy. “No one is being asked for a sacrifice,” Kerry said. “This is an opportunity.” According to the US media, Biden’s commitment is the most ambitious US climate goal ever, nearly doubling the cuts the Obama administration had pledged to meet in the Paris climate accord. The White House arranged for billionaires, CEOs and union executives to help promote Biden’s plan to reduce the US economy’s reliance on fossil fuels by investing trillions of dollars in clean-energy technology, research and infrastructure while simultaneously saving the planet. The two-day summit was part of Biden’s efforts to restore US leadership on the issue after his predecessor, Donald Trump,  withdrew the United States from the  legally binding  Paris  Agreement on Climate Change in 2017. Biden reversed the decision shortly after taking office. However, there is skepticism about the commitment announced by Biden and there is certain to be a partisan political battle over his pledge to reduce fossil fuel use in every sector of the US economy, according to Voice of America.

As uncertainty shrouds the world action plan against the environment challenge, a new report has warned that climate change could cut the world economy by $23 trillion in 2050. The world economy is set to lose up to 18pc GDP from climate change if no action is taken, reveals Swiss Re Institute’s stress-test analysis. Climate change poses the biggest long-term threat to the global economy. If no mitigating action is taken, global temperatures could rise by more than 3°C and the world economy could shrink by 18pc in the next 30 years. But the impact can be lessened if decisive action is taken to meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement, Swiss Re Institute’s new Climate Economics Index shows.

However, it warns that it will require more than what is pledged today; public and private sectors will play a crucial role in accelerating the transition to net zero. It conducted a stress test to examine how 48 economies would be impacted by the ongoing effects of climate change under four different temperature increase scenarios. As global warming makes the impact of weather-related natural disasters more severe, it can lead to substantial income and productivity losses over time. For example, rising sea levels result in loss of land that could have otherwise been used productively and heat stress can lead to crop failures. Emerging economies in equatorial regions would be most affected by rising temperatures.

In a severe scenario of a 3.2°C temperature increase, China stands to lose almost one quarter of its GDP (24pc) by mid-century. The US, Canada and the UK would all see around a 10pc loss. Europe would suffer slightly more (11pc), while economies such as Finland or Switzerland are less exposed (6pc) than, for example, France or Greece (13pc). By 2050, the world population will grow to almost 10 billion people, especially in regions most impacted by climate change. So, the world must act now to mitigate the risks and to reach net-zero targets. Equally, as the recent biodiversity index shows, nature and ecosystem services provide huge economic benefits but are under intense threat. That’s why climate change and biodiversity loss are twin challenges that we need to tackle as a global community to maintain a healthy economy and a sustainable future, the report said.

Along with evaluating each country’s expected economic impact from climate risks, the report also ranked each country on its vulnerability to extreme dry and wet weather conditions. In addition, it looked at the country’s capacity to cope with the effects of climate change. Put together, these findings generate a ranking of countries’ resilience to the impacts of climate change. The ranking displays a similar view to the GDP impact analysis: Countries most negatively impacted are often the ones with fewest resources to adapt to and mitigate the effects of rising global temperatures. The most vulnerable countries in this context are Malaysia, Thailand, India, the Philippines and Indonesia. Advanced economies in the northern hemisphere are the least vulnerable, including the US, Canada, Switzerland and Germany.

According to the latest UN report, South Asia is among the regions adversely impacted by climate change. The change caused “abnormally high rainfall at various times of the year 2020 in the Sub-continent and neighbouring areas,” like China, warned the report. The annual state of the global climate report described 2020 as “one of the three warmest years on record” as the Earth’s temperature continued to rise. It noted that extreme weather events had combined with Covid-19 pandemic, impacting millions of people across the globe. According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), which prepared the report, the global average temperature in 2020 was about 1.2-degree Celsius above the pre-industrial level. The figure is dangerously close to the 1.5-degree Celsius limit advocated by scientists to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. The six years since 2015 have been the warmest on record, and the decade beginning up to this year, was the warmest ever.

The worsening climate crisis calls for practical steps to save the world and its population from its adverse effects. The rich countries will have to lead from the front because they are responsible for the mess and they have the resources to tackle it.