By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” March 24, 2023)
Last Monday, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s climate–science body, released a report outlining experts’ latest understanding of the science of climate change. The report declared the science of climate change ‘unequivocal’. It warned that even with urgent action, we would continue to face a dramatic uptick in catastrophic events — from droughts to floods –that have become tell-tale signs of a rapidly warming warm.
This report is bad news for the entire world that may prove catastrophic for small developing states like ours. We contribute little to the devastation being caused to the climate but bear the brunt of the emerging problems. Our nation spends close to $100 million each year on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Sea defences at Sandy Bay and Georgetown, beach erosion, river training and the changing patterns of seasonal fruits and vegetables are unmistakable signs of an emerging climate reality.
The report cites that human activities, principally through the emission of greenhouse gases, have “unequivocally” caused global warming. It says global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase with unequal historical and ongoing contributions, arising from unsustainable energy use, land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production across regions, between and within countries and among individuals.
Human influence was likely the primary driver of these increases over the last 50 years. Evidence of observed changes in extremes includes heatwaves, heavy rainfall, droughts, and hurricanes.
More than half of the world’s population (3.6 billion people) live in areas that are highly vulnerable to climate change. Regions and people with considerable development constraints have high vulnerability to climatic hazards. Increasing weather and climate extreme events have exposed millions of people to acute food insecurity and reduced water security. The most significant adverse impacts are observed in many communities in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Small Islands and the Arctic.
As is most often the case, the poor, vulnerable, and those least able to cope bear the brunt of the difficulties, problems they did not create. The report claimed that between 2010 and 2020, human mortality from floods, droughts and storms was 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions.
The scientists who compiled the report said they speak with high confidence that:
1. Climate change has caused substantial damages, and increasingly irreversible losses, in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean ecosystems. They conclude that hundreds of local losses of species have been driven by increases in the magnitude of heat extremes with mass mortality events recorded on land and in the ocean.
2. Climate change has reduced food security and affected water security, hindering efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goals. Although overall agricultural productivity has increased, climate change has slowed this growth globally over the past 50 years. Ocean warming and ocean acidification have adversely affected food production. Acute food insecurity can occur at any time with a severity that threatens lives and livelihoods. Fisheries and shellfish depletion have been observed. Consequently, roughly half of the world’s population currently experiences severe water scarcity for at least part of the year.
3. Climate change has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people that are unequally distributed across systems, regions and sectors. Economic damages from climate change have been detected in climate-exposed sectors, such as agriculture, forestry, fishery, energy, and tourism. Individual livelihoods have been affected through, for example, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, loss of property and income, human health and food security, with adverse effects on gender and social equity.
These developments have caused severe stresses and strains in all regions, particularly in resource-starved developing countries. Adaption and mitigation strategies are forced on societies that are least able to afford them. This, in turn, causes even more dependency, which fuels greater debt burdens and hinders sustainable development.
In the near term, concludes the report, every region in the world is projected to face further increases in climate hazards, increasing multiple risks to ecosystems and humans. Hazards and associated risks expected in the near term include an increase in heat-related human mortality and morbidity; food-borne, water-borne, and vector-borne diseases; mental health challenges; flooding in coastal and other low-lying cities and regions; biodiversity loss in land, freshwater and ocean ecosystems, and a decrease in food production in some regions.
The IPCC report shows how every bit of additional warming translates into more suffering for people, especially the most vulnerable. Without a renewed commitment to taking this science seriously, more problems are ahead for humanity. The time has come for world leaders, especially from those countries that contribute most to the climate problem, to put an end to vague commitments and broken promises. The time for delays and deception is over.
In this broken international system, where might often amount to right, more effort is needed to name and shame the most notorious polluters. The world’s citizenry needs to become more conscious of its surroundings. Companies that pollute must be boycotted to demand reform or radical change. A renewed commitment to closing the accountability gap is desperately needed.
The current environmental crisis demands that the world shifts from negotiation to implementation. The big climate meetings in Kyoto, Japan, Paris, France and Glasgow, Scotland, were nothing more than talk shops. Unless countries face more robust scrutiny, the destruction of the planet will continue. Promises that are not backed up with policy and plans for delivery remain meaningless.
In many respects, citizens of the global South are like “sitting ducks”. We have little power to enact change but are most vulnerable. The IPCC’s report is another wake-up call commanding us to double down on the future we can still create.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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