ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION

Climate crisis is full-blown, time to act is now

Experts warn that as the planet warms, fires will become more frequent and fiercer, and sea levels will surge.

In Summary

• There is a wide chasm between the level of scientific evidence and the seriousness with which world leaders treat climate issues.

• Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and US President Donald Trump deny that our addiction to fossil fuels imperils our civilisation.

A march in a climate strike featuring climate change teen activist Greta Thunberg in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada October 25, 2019
A march in a climate strike featuring climate change teen activist Greta Thunberg in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada October 25, 2019
Image: REUTERS

Our planet is facing a growing number of complex and interlinked challenges. This ranges from slowing global economic growth and economic inequality to climate change, geopolitical tensions, geo-economic tensions, growing nationalism to the quickening pace of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

But the preeminent threat to the global economy and, more importantly to our survival as a species, is the climate crisis. Environmental and economic risks associated with climate change account for the top five risks by likelihood and by the impact. This is according to the Global Risks Report published by the World Economic Forum last year.

The consequences of dithering and inaction are becoming eminently evident. The raging fires that have engulfed parts of Australia, the record fires that destroyed nearly 19,000 square kilometers of the Brazilian Amazon forest last year, the floods and landslides in Eastern Africa and the blistering drought in Southern Africa are incontrovertible proof that climate change impacts are real, complex, catastrophic and global in scale.

 

Experts warn that as the planet warms, fires will become more frequent and fiercer, and sea levels will surge. Warmer oceans will lead to more devastating storms and more frequent droughts. Already, scientists warn that given the pace of warming, future fires could be far more damaging. A study published in the journal Science Advances project that the area of the Amazon forest burned could double by 2050 and consume 16 per cent of the rainforest.

We know from basic science that healthy vegetation sucks billions of tonnes of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually. Hence, trees and forest cover are perhaps the most effective defenses we have against climate change. But wildfires, coupled with land use and land-use change, threaten to change forests from a net carbon sink to a net carbon source, contributing more carbon dioxide than they absorb.

The 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum will be held between January 21-24 in Davos, Switzerland. Two of the four global issues that will feature in Davos focus on the urgent climate and associated environmental challenges that imperil our ecology and our economy, and especially how to transform industries to be more sustainable.

There is a wide chasm between the level of scientific evidence and the seriousness with which world leaders treat climate issues. For example, the Fourth National Climate Assessment for the US gives explicit examples of climate change impact; failing crops in the parched Great Plains and a surge in insect-borne disease in Florida.

A 2008 report commissioned by the Australian government predicted fire seasons would start earlier and end later, and be more intense from around 2020.

But Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and US President Donald Trump remain unmoved. They deny that our addiction to fossil fuels imperils our civilisation. Moreover, African governments refuse to take decisive action arguing that the cost of adaption and mitigation to climate change must be borne by industrialized economies.

In this decade we must commit to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and keep global temperature rise below 1.5-degree Celsius.

Alex O. Awiti is Vice Provost at Aga Khan University. The views expressed are the writer’s own