A climate emergency

August 22, 2021

If we do not act now, we will not leave a livable Earth for future generations

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Just when we thought we could heave a sigh of relief in terms of Covid-19 vaccination, another issue has popped up and demands immediate attention. It is the climate-induced disasters occurring around the globe.

The devastating heat waves in the US and Canada have reportedly killed 130 people as temperature rose to as high as 50 degrees Celsius. High temperatures and extremely dry conditions caused wildfires that have burnt forests on more than a million acres in 12 states of America.

Fires have also raged in other parts of the world including Greece, Northern Macedonia, Turkey, Algeria, Italy, Russia (Siberia) and Cyprus. High temperatures (above 45 degree Celsius) in Pakistan and India have caused distressed among people.

Unprecedented rainfall caused flooding in Germany, Belgium, US, Pakistan, India, Turkey, Italy and Central China and forced thousands of people to flee their homes. Droughts in Arizona, California, Chile, Madagascar and Kazakhstan are a matter of survival for many species.

Extreme heat waves, flooding, unprecedented rainfall and droughts happening around the globe are a result of a 1.1 degree Celsius rise in mean temperature since 1850-1900. This global heating has also caused melting of glaciers and a 20 centimetres rise in the sea level.

In 2011–2020, the annual average Arctic Sea ice area reached its lowest level since at least the year 1850. Most of the observed warming is driven by emissions from human activities, with greenhouse gas warming partly masked by aerosol cooling, confirms the latest report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC).

The IPCC, created by the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in 1988, having 195 Member countries, is United Nations’ body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC report is an eye-opener in many ways.

First, the report confirms that if business continues as usual, the world would witness a global warming level of 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next 20 years. Since 2011, the concentration of greenhouse gases is increasing globally. As per scientists’ estimates, the annual average concentration of carbon dioxide has reached to 410 parts per million (highest in at least 2 million years), 1,866 parts per billion of methane, and 332 ppb of nitrous oxide (highest in at least 800,000 years).

Over the last decade, mean global temperature has increased rapidly and broken the 6,500 years record. Marine heat waves have approximately doubled in frequency since the 1980s. There has been a rapid change in temperature in the atmosphere and in the oceans. The oceans and land are now unable to absorb carbon dioxide and the emitted carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere.

Extreme heat waves, flooding, unprecedented rainfall, and droughts around the globe are a result of the 1.1 degree Celsius increase in temperature since 1850-1900. This increase has also caused melting of glaciers and a 20 centimeters rise in the sea level.

Second, the annual average Arctic Sea ice area reached its lowest level since at least 1850 in the past decade. Late summer, the Arctic Sea ice area was smaller than at any time in at least 1,000 years. Further warming will amplify permafrost thawing, and the loss of seasonal snow cover. Globally, we have lost 22 percent of ice from glaciers, and 20 percent of ice sheets.

Third, the global rise in sea level has increased to 20 centimetres. This causes more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion. Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century.

Fourth, due to global warming, there is an increase in the frequency and intensity of hot weather, marine heat waves, heavy precipitation and agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions. One can notice the proportion of intense tropical cyclones as well as reductions in Arctic Sea ice and snow cover and permafrost.

It is estimated that rainfall will likely increase, particularly over South and Southeast Asia, East Asia and West Africa. This means we should expect more floods.

If the world does not cut down on carbon emissions we will exceed 1.5 degrees temperature by 2040. A 1.5 degrees temperature means we will experience 4.1 times more heat waves, 1.5 times more rainfall, and double the agricultural and ecological droughts in dry regions. This means more floods, droughts, prolonged and hot summers, short winters, burden on the health sector and weak economies.

The report estimates that with further global warming, every region is projected to increasingly experience concurrent and multiple changes in climatic impact drivers. Changes in several climatic impact drivers would be more widespread at 2°C compared to 1.5°C global warming and even more widespread and/or pronounced for higher warming levels.

The world is already witnessing floods, heat waves, wildfires and droughts not only in South Asia but also in Europe and America.

Going forward, every country needs to cut down on carbon emissions to net zero to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Now is the time for action. Ahead of CoP26 (conference of parties), the aforementioned human-induced disasters are a clear reminder that every country must pledge ambitiously to cut down on emissions to zero. Every country must ensure to make their businesses inclusive and green.

There is no time for excuses. If we do not act now we will not leave a livable Earth for future generations. The civil society and media should play their role. Indigenous knowledge combined with clean technologies can save this world.

The writer is an environmental expert based in Islamabad.

She tweets at S_Maryam8

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