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February 24, 2019

ALEX AWITI: We’re on a path of self-annihilation

Climate Change affects the whole world regardless of which region fuels it.
Climate Change affects the whole world regardless of which region fuels it.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up in 1988 to provide governments with regular assessments on a scientific basis of climate change, its impacts, future risks and options for adaptation or mitigation.

Previous IPCC reports have shown that our influence on the climate system is undeniable, and that we have the ability and obligation to limit climate change impacts and to build prosperous and sustainable futures for all mankind.

The sixth Assessment Report is out. There is high confidence that anthropogenic or human activities have caused approximately one degree Celsius of global warming above pre-industrial levels. The report further notes that climate-related risks for natural and human systems are higher for global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

A 0.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise will have catastrophic effects. These include extreme temperatures, heavy precipitation, increased probability of drought and precipitation deficits in some regions.

According to the report, a half degree rise could expose tens of millions more people to coastal flooding, life-threatening heat waves, drought, hunger and water shortages.

Of the 105,000 species studied, six per cent of insects, eight per cent of plants and four per cent of vertebrates are projected to lose more than half of their climatically determined range under 1.5 degree Celsius. For global warming of two degrees Celsius, a whopping 18 per cent of insects, 16 per cent of plants and eight per cent of vertebrates will lose their climatically determined habitats. A half a degree in temperature is a really big deal.

The world is likely to cross over the 1.5 degrees Celsius guardrails in the lifetime of a majority of children and young adults alive today. Our addiction to fossil fuels and less-than-robust commitment to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, make it highly likely that global temperatures will rise by two degrees Celsius in this century.

Climate-related risks to plant, animal and human health, economic growth, water supply, food security and human security are projected to rise dramatically with a two degrees Celsius temperature rise, compared to a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise.

According to the report, reaching and sustaining net zero global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions could halt human-induced climate change in multi-decadal timescales. Hence, holding the line at 1.5 degrees Celsius demands urgent and far-reaching changes in the global energy system.

We are on a path of self-annihilation. Fossil fuels are perhaps the modern-day Midas touch. To our horror, carbon has poisoned our atmosphere and threatened our health and food systems, our economies, terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions requires a combination of more aggressive regulation and technological change than political leaders are willing to contemplate. We must cut greenhouse gas emissions by half in just 12 years and zero by 2050. All the coal plants and fossil fuel-powered vehicles must be replaced by zero-carbon fuels.

And to US President Donald Trump, climate change is manmade and it won’t “change back again”. It can’t fix itself. We must change. Time is of the essence!

Alex O. Awiti is the director of the East Africa Institute at Aga Khan University

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