A Code Red Warning on the Hazards of Climate Change & an Impending Global Disaster

Secretary-General António Guterres (left) discusses the State of the Planet with Professor Maureen Raymo at Columbia University in New York City. December 2020. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
  • by Thalif Deen (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

“The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible,” warns Guterres.

He says the internationally agreed threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius is perilously close. “We are at imminent risk of hitting 1.5 degrees in the near term. The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold is by urgently stepping up our efforts, and pursuing the most ambitious path. We must act decisively now to keep 1.5 alive.”

The recent changing weather patterns worldwide– including the devastation caused by wild fires in 13 states in the US, plus Siberia, Turkey and Greece, heavy rains and severe flooding in central China and Germany, droughts in Iran, Madagascar and southern Angola– warn of a dire future unless there are dramatic changes in our life styles.

The impending hazards also threaten animal and plant species, coral reefs, ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica, and projects a sea-level rise that threatens the very existence of the world’s small island developing states (SIDS) which can be wiped off the face of the earth.

The 10 biggest emitters of greenhouse gases include China, the US, the 27-member European Union (EU), India, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran and Canada.

The study predicts that average global temperatures are likely to rise 1.5 degree Celsius or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and will continue to warm for another 10 years. At that point, nearly one billion people worldwide could face life-threatening heat waves at least once every five years.

Against the backdrop of a rapidly changing global climate, water-related hazards top the list of natural disasters with the highest human losses in the past 50 years, according to a new report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released July 20.

According to a report in Cable News Network (CNN), scientists say the only way to keep from reaching this point of no return and to prevent even more catastrophic damage is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

As many as 260 million people in the US are expected “to experience high temperatures at least 90 degrees by the end of the week as a new heat wave settles over parts of the country.”

Nafkote Dabi, Climate Policy Lead at Oxfam, warms of the climate change repercussions amid “a world in parts burning, in parts drowning and in parts starving”.

The report is “the most compelling wake-up call yet for global industry to switch from oil, gas and coal to renewables. Governments must use law to compel this urgent change. Citizens must use their own political power and behaviors to push big polluting corporations and governments in the right direction. There is no Plan B’.

Asked whether the UN was on the right track in its fight against the hazards of climate change, Dr Shilpi Srivastava, Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) , told IPS: “The UN needs to strongly urge the rich countries to contribute substantively towards climate finance, in particular towards adaptation and addressing loss and damage.”

She said the world body should encourage its member countries to ensure that policies for adaptation and mitigation, including achieving net zero emissions, are just and inclusive, and do not bring undue harm to those on the frontline of climate change.

She also pointed out that the report comes amidst another year of severe heatwaves, droughts, flooding, forest fires and extreme events which are impacting communities across the globe.

“The findings should serve as a reminder that we need to urgently prioritise support for those who are most disadvantaged and already experiencing the worst impacts of climate change”.

“We need transformative climate justice for people across the globe who've been marginalised and excluded from decision-making on impacts and interventions. We need to talk about loss and damage for vulnerable communities and must hold governments accountable to deliver programmes that bring meaningful and positive change in the lives of those most affected by climate change.”

She said leaders meeting at COP26 (in Glasgow in November) need to listen to science and take decisive actions to keep fossil fuels in the grounds. In parallel, they must ensure that policies for mitigation and adaptation are just and inclusive.

“Technical fixes will not take us very far, and can perpetuate the systems of inequity and injustice in the form of displacement and land grabs, something we are already witnessing in the name of ‘green’ solutions,” she warned .

“Policymakers need to recognise the place-based realities of people living in the planet’s most vulnerable places and ensure that their lived-in experiences, voice and knowledge (s) count in decision making. Our global biodiversity and climate crisis requires action, but action that addresses the root drivers of the crises – poverty, inequity and marginalization,” she declared.

Meanwhile, Guterres said 2021, “must be the year for action”, as he called for a number of “concrete advances”, before countries gather for COP26 – the 26th session of Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“Countries need to submit ambitious new nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that were designed by the Paris Agreement. Their climate plans for the next 10 years must be much more efficient.”

“We are already at 1.2 degrees and rising. Warming has accelerated in recent decades. Every fraction of a degree counts. Greenhouse gas concentrations are at record levels. Extreme weather and climate disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity. That is why this year’s United Nations climate conference in Glasgow is so important,” he noted.

Guterres also pointed out that “the viability of our societies depends on leaders from government, business and civil society uniting behind policies, actions and investments that will limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We owe this to the entire human family, especially the poorest and most vulnerable communities and nations that are the hardest hit despite being least responsible for today’s climate emergency”.

The solutions are clear, he argued, “Inclusive and green economies, prosperity, cleaner air and better health are possible for all if we respond to this crisis with solidarity and courage.”

All nations, especially the G20 and other major emitters, need to join the net zero emissions coalition and reinforce their commitments with credible, concrete and enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions and policies before COP26 in Glasgow.

The G20 comprises Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus the 27-member European Union (EU) .

Oxfam’s Dabi said in recent years, with 1°C of global heating, there have been deadly cyclones in Asia and Central America, floods in Europe and the UK, huge locust swarms across Africa, and unprecedented heatwaves and wildfires across the US and Australia ?all turbo-charged by climate change.

Over the past 10 years, more people have been forced from their homes by extreme weather-related disasters than for any other single reason ?20 million a year, or one person every two seconds.

She pointed out the number of climate-related disasters has tripled in 30 years. Since 2000, the UN estimates that 1.23 million people have died and 4.2 billion have been affected by droughts, floods and wildfires.

“The richest one percent of people in the world, approximately 63 million people, are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity,” said Dabi.

The people with money and power will be able to buy some protection against the effects of global warming for longer than people without those privileges and resources ?but not forever. No one is safe. “This report is clear that we are at the stage now when self-preservation is either a collective process or a failed one,” she added.

She said very few nations ?and none of the world’s wealthy nations? have submitted climate plans consistent with keeping warming below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C. If global emissions continue to increase, the 1.5°C threshold could be breached as early as the next decade.

The IPCC report must spur governments to act together and build a fairer and greener global economy to ensure the world stays within 1.5°C of warming. They must cement this in Glasgow.

Rich country governments must meet their $100 billion-a-year promise to help the poorest countries grapple with the climate crisis ?according to Oxfam, not only have they failed to deliver on their promise, but over-inflated reports of their contributions by as much as three times, she declared.

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© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service