Deteriorating Global Climate Crisis

By Taj M Khattak,

UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow to bring parties together to accelerate action towards goals of Paris Agreement and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Prominent among international community’s efforts to tackle challenges of climate change, are Pakistan’s ten Billions Tree Tsunami project and Ecosystem Restoration Fund, which have been widely acclaimed and the country elected as Vice President for COP26 and member of six important committees, such as Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board,(CDM), Adaption Committee, Technology Executive Committee, Paris Agreement Compliance Committee, Adaptation Fund Board, and Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) (Loss/Damage) Committee. This is a laudable achievement by any standard.

To underscore importance of Glasgow summit, United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has recently released Assessment Report (AR6) on physical science of the climate crisis. It is a comprehensive 3,000 pages document which has synthesised 14,000 scientific article, 70,000 comments based on over 100 different climate models by dozens of modelling groups.

The report has been commented upon globally and is significant because it has removed all major uncertainties of the past, and confirmed that human activities have changed our climate, which is now on the verge of changing planet Earth forever. The report highlights that changes in oceans, ice-sheets, seas, and land are nearing irreversible levels and leading to tipping points. It warns that global surface temperatures are 1.09 degree centigrade higher in the period 2011-2020 than in 1850-1900. At this rate, the dreaded 1.5 degrees Celsius change could possible occur by 2030-2035 as opposed 2050 as anticipated previously. About three years ago, Nawabshah in Pakistan, for example, experienced 52. 4 degrees Celsius temperature in summers , which is believed to be highest ever recorded on earth in centuries. The 1.5 degrees Celsius average increase in global temperature is considered as benchmark where we’ll likely experience many natural systems beginning to cross dangerous points of no return, triggering irreversible and permanent changes and transforming life on earth.

The UN document has drawn attention to global trends of compounded and extreme events, such as drought coupled with heatwaves, coastal flooding coupled with wind hazards, sealevel rise and storm surge, and tropical cyclones followed by heatwaves. The world is already witnessing such phenomenon on their TV screens, from Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh in India, Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany, Henan in China, to extraordinary heat wave in British Columbia. The intensity of these events has generated a heated discussion amongst world scientists on whether their projections were, what they call, ‘false positive’ which generated a misplaced sense of complacency, but turned out to be much worse. The scientists community is now wary of not stretching it too far in the other direction, by giving ‘false negatives’ – even though every available data points to the fact that all climate models in the past underestimated scale of impact.

It is interesting to learn that increased rainfall from global warming has turned, what was previously a ‘once in 500- years’ flood into a ‘100-years flood’. phenomenon. This has major implications for governance and regulatory machinery in countries across the globe, which now need to have a fresh look at all policy directives and planning in various domains such as building permissions for housing, adequate drainage, its surveillance against encroachment, reliable power generation, sturdy electrical distribution system and to take corrective actions where necessary.

Alarmingly, the report has pointed out that due to Carbon Dioxide already locked in the atmosphere, global warming will continue beyond 2100. Further, if we continue to produce Carbon Dioxide at the present rate, the impact of global warming will only get worse and more rapidly than scientists had predicted till now. This needs to be seen in tandem with melting permafrost which is another concern for global warming. Arctic permafrost holds nearly twice as much carbon as the atmosphere. On current trends, up to 89% of near-surface permafrost could disappear by 2100. This would release tens to hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane, adding to warming. Weather, which could have resulted from Arctic permafrost thawing projections 70 years in the future, is happening right now.

Regrettably, countries with little or no maritime traditions, appear unconcerned with sea-level rise and ignore the reality that melting ice is now the single most important cause for sealevel rise. Revised estimate in the IPCC report predict an over one meter rise in global sealevels by 2100. The problem is aggravated as blue sea absorbs more heat than white sea ice. Melting sea ice, therefore, creates a feedback loop – more heat is trapped in sea water which triggers more thawing. Arctic ice melt, worst in 1600 years of earth’s history, has slowed down the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation – a major ocean current that circulates warm water from south to north, which could adversely impact raining patterns from South America to Asia.

The dilemma faced by human race as a whole is that climate risks are non-linear and the past is not a good predictor of the future. It might be tempting to dismiss such cautions as distant possibilities and something not of our immediate concern, but it is in our collective interest to take a serious note that henceforth warming anywhere will impact our future everywhere.

Already, in recent years many countries in the world, have experienced freak weather phenomenon such as abnormal temperatures and unprecedented rainfall which has resulted in urban and rural flooding, infrastructural damage and loss of life. These are indelible signs of a surging climate crisis, and a compelling reminder that the governments across regions are, woefully under-equipped to tackle many of its effects, especially those which effect the financially stressed segments of their respective societies.

The challenge of rapidly changing whether phenomenon is a reality staring in our face and its proper understanding is important to help us make informed choices about managing risks. It would, however, be imprudent if only global warming is blamed for weather related disasters, since there is enough evidence to suggest that, frenzied and unregulated construction has been taking place in recent years even on flood plains where there was foreknowledge of impending danger.

The overburdened and silted drainage systems, exacerbated by unchecked encroachment, has added to public miseries in urban areas while rural areas have suffered due to insufficient thought to natural topography and hydro-geomorphology during development of infrastructure. It is unfortunate that while consideration of environmental effects for any new project is a high priority in every developed country, it is hardly given any attention in developing economies.

Barring some exceptions, metrological departments the world over, have been doing a reasonably good job of weather forecasting but its capabilities will need to be improved considerable to forward and protect public at large from large scale disasters. In view of rising global concern for climate crisis, there appears greater inclination in donor countries for capacity building in metrological departments in developing countries which needs to be explored. A highly professional metrological department, besides safety of citizens, can help in crucial decision making such as turning weather related calamities into opportunities by channelling floodwater for useful purpose through construction of appropriate engineering structures. No gainsaying, water in not too distant future could become even more scarce commodity than what it is today.

The climate system on our earth is under unprecedented stress in human history. It has become more complex as the toiling masses are under the illusion that they can adapt to harsher patterns of life while the elite feel they have the resources to move to safer nests when in danger. But either way, there is no escaping the fact that climate crisis, if not addressed seriously, will lead to untold misery, infrastructural losses, widening an already disproportionate inequality gap, and social instability.

The writing on the wall is clear: the distant is here and the future is now; the time to act was yesterday. At the global level, only by achieving net zero reductions in emissions, will there be a chance of saving the world from an agonising future. If remains to be seen if the world leaders can grasp the nettle.

(Courtesy businesstoday)