Global climate change is the greatest crisis facing humanity, but politicians and the corporations that pull their political strings, continue to place short-term economic interests before the integrity of the planet, the survival of wildlife and the health of the human population. International agreements and national emission targets are often postponed or totally ignored.
In such an environment, euphoric rhetoric, the like of which we heard at the close of the pivotal 2015 Paris Climate Change Summit (COP21), becomes little more than meaningless theatrics. The accord reached in Paris was tailored to be the climate template for governments around the world up to and beyond 2050. It was hailed as historic, a collective triumph of responsible good sense over ignorance and apathy. But whilst it achieved – on paper at least – more than seemed possible, as George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian, put it days after the summit, “by comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster”.
Described by the EU as “a bridge between today’s policies and climate-neutrality before the end of the century”, a year on little of substance has been done to change behaviour that could eventually lead to realisation of the Parisian aims.
Government delegates from 197 countries agreed “on the need for global emissions to peak as soon as possible [an acceptably vague term to elicit official signatures], recognising that this will take longer for developing countries”; and, most significantly, shook hands on a proposal to limit “the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to aim to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
Such a target, they stated, is dependent on global emissions of greenhouse gases being ‘net neutral in the second half of this century’.
Leading up to Paris, each country submitted a climate plan, the ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ (NDC). It detailed how respective governments were planning to reduce emissions and stay below the warming target. But even if all the Paris pledges were implemented in full, global temperatures would rise between 2.9C and 3.4C by the end of this century. Such a rise would be catastrophic; even if warming could be limited to 2 degrees C the consequences, scientists predict, will be widespread and life-changing, affecting millions of people and devastating ecosystems.
Since 1870 the mean sea level has risen by eight inches. Should the level rise a further 12 inches, large parts of the world’s surface would become less habitable, and coastal flooding could threaten up to 200 million people. This would create an unprecedented refugee crisis.
A 2-degrees C increase would endanger low-lying islands and coastal cities, where population growth is largely concentrated, resulting in huge numbers of people being displaced. The populations of the worst affected areas, George Monbiot relates, “are likely to face wilder extremes: worse droughts in some places, worse floods in others, greater storms and, potentially, grave impacts on food supply.”
With Arctic ice melting, the poisoning of the seas and the destruction of coral reefs, “entire marine food chains could collapse…mass extinction [of wildlife] is likely to be the hallmark of our era”.
Many of the cities in greatest danger are situated in developing countries, where, generally speaking people remain uninformed about climate change. Having produced less of the pollutants that cause the problems, they are the greatest victims of this man-made catastrophe: Manila in the Philippines, Jakarta in Indonesia, Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh, Kolkata in India and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia – where drought in 2016 triggered a ‘minor’ famine. It is an alarming image, which should motivate all to act; but apathy, duplicity and greed all too often hold sway.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Climate Change: The Potential Impacts of Collective Inaction’. Courtesy: counterpunch.org