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Climate crisis woes to worsen in years to come

Climate crisis concept. Copyright: sangoiri / 123RF Stock Photo. Climate emergency concept.
Image credit: sangoiri / 123RF Stock Photo

A draft United Nations report obtained by AFP News contains grim news regarding the future of our planet, positing that the climate crisis “will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades, even if humans can tame planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.” 

The leaked report, as AFP News reported last week, involved the contributions of hundreds of scientists and totals at 4,000 pages. According to AFP, the report’s “main conclusions are unlikely to change between now and its official publication in February 2022, to illustrate the expected effects of the climate emergency.” Said conclusions are dire to say the least. 

“Species extinction, more widespread disease, unliveable heat, ecosystem collapse, cities menaced by rising seas — these and other devastating climate impacts are accelerating and bound to become painfully obvious before a child born today turns thirty,” the publication outlines. “The choices societies make now will determine whether our species thrives or simply survives as the 21st century unfolds, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says in [the] draft report…dangerous thresholds are closer than once thought, and dire consequences stemming from decades of unbridled carbon pollution are unavoidable in the short term.” 

It quotes the report as stating “the worst is yet to come, affecting our children’s and grandchildren’s lives much more than our own” and describes the mammoth document as an “indictment of humanity’s stewardship of the planet.” The IPCC declined to comment in response to the report, on the grounds that it does not pass comment on research where it is ongoing. 

Just this week, the World Economic Forum (WEF) highlighted the economic fallout from the climate crisis. Citing the Swiss Re Institute, the WEF warned that as much as eighteen percent of global gross domestic product could be shorn off by the climate crisis by 2050, should global temperatures rise 3.2°C. Furthermore, the WEF said “[forecasts] based on temperature increases staying on the current trajectory and the Paris Agreement and net-zero emissions targets [are] not being met.” 

English: Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Nivar on November 25, 2020
Cyclone Nivar, pictured on November 25th at its peak strength. Image credit: NOAA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

For Asia, the findings are alarming. “Asian economies were forecast to be hardest hit, with a 5.5 percent hit to GDP in the best-case scenario, and 26.5 percent hit in a severe scenario,” the WEF said. It further noted that “data showed that economies in South and South-east Asia were the most susceptible to the physical risks associated with global warming. Countries most negatively impacted – including Malaysia, Thailand, India, the Philippines and Indonesia – were often the ones with the least resources to mitigate and adapt to the effects of global warming. However, such nations also have the most to gain from global efforts to reduce temperature rises.” 

India is no stranger to the dangers of climate change, being among the countries most susceptible to the manifold crises of the climate crisis. Just this year, it witnessed the ravages of Cyclone Yaas and Cyclone Tauktae as well as Cyclone Nivar the year prior. In the former case, my colleague Nick Witts noted “given that east India and the Bay of Bengal are prone to some of the most forceful cyclones seen globally, suggestions that the Indian government should now plan the establishment of further industries and urbanisation with these weather events firmly at the front of the process in mind should seemingly be taken for granted.

“Development of industries and urbanisation in these areas will bring deforestation to the fore and exacerbate further natural calamities causing future financial loss…as demonstrated by Cyclone Yaas, effective mitigation and adaptation methods will also be critical. The Indian government has now embraced the use of concrete embankments, intended to hold back the tide as a solution to powerful weather events and rising sea levels. For many developing countries these actions are now the main agenda; adaptation and resilience taking precedence over decarbonisation of their economies.” 

We are playing with fire when it comes to the climate crisis. The draft UN IPCC report – released on the heels of warnings that there is a forty percent chance annual average global temperatures will temporarily push past the limit set out in the COP21 climate agreement in at least one of the next five years – should be cause for concern. It’s time to stop playing around. 

“Climate risk affects every society, every company and every individual,” said Thierry Léger, group chief underwriting officer and chairman of the Swiss Re Institute. “By 2050, the world population will grow to almost ten billion people, especially in regions most impacted by climate change. So we must act now to mitigate the risks and to reach net-zero targets.”

By U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Delegates at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change on Earth Day 2016, which saw 174 countries sign the historic Paris agreement – to which India is a signatory and has since ratified. Image credit: U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
For India, the price that will be paid in the absence of action will be grim. This is not to say that actions have not been taken. As I reported in 2019, “to India’s credit, measures – many of them low-cost and common sense – have been enacted thus far to mitigate the impact of rising temperatures.” Just this year, the so-called Arctic Policy began formulation to strengthen the country’s climate response. 

Nonetheless, as we noted in 2019, “such initiatives, however, will not stave off India’s coming climate crisis, nor will they lessen its severity and catastrophic impact upon vast swathes of the country’s population. In the past seventy years, India’s surface temperatures have skyrocketed. The 2008-17 decade in India stands as its hottest on record.” Since then, Reuters reported in January of last year that “between 2010 and 2019, temperatures were 0.36 degrees Celsius (0.65 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981-2010 average, making it the hottest decade since records began in 1901, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).” 

It is clear that the crisis is worsening and more needs to be done. Time is fast evaporating and the grim portents of doom awaiting us should not be ignored as the disaster of the climate crisis looms on the horizon. “Even at 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, conditions will change beyond many organisms’ ability to adapt,” warns the draft UN report. The AFP report notes that “prolonged warming even beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius could produce “progressively serious, centuries’ long and, in some cases, irreversible consequences.”” 

Today, “current levels of adaptation will be inadequate to respond to future climate risks” the report says. By 2050, tens of millions will be plunged into extreme hunger. In just the next decade, more than 130 million face extreme poverty. As AFP reports, “some 350 million more people living in urban areas will be exposed to water scarcity from severe droughts at 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming — 410 million at two degrees Celsius. That extra half-a-degree will also mean 420 million more people exposed to extreme and potentially lethal heatwaves.” India – a country already facing a water scarcity crisis – ought to take note and prepare accordingly. 

Ultimately, the report is far from joy-inducing reading. Nonetheless, as AFP does note, “the IPCC stresses that much can be done to avoid worst-case scenarios and prepare for impacts that can no longer be averted, the final takeaway. Conservation and restoration of so-called blue carbon ecosystems — kelp and mangrove forests, for example — enhance carbon stocks and protect against storm surges, as well as providing wildlife habitats, coastal livelihoods and food security. Transitioning to more plant-based diets could also reduce food-related emissions as much as seventy percent by 2050.” 

It quotes the report as stating “we need transformational change operating on processes and behaviours at all levels: individual, communities, business, institutions and governments. We must redefine our way of life and consumption.” 

For all our sakes, these are warnings to take to heart and put into action. 

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