We can only look at the planet’s future with hope
It’s that time of the year world leaders seem extremely concerned about climate change, the changing weather conditions, the fate of humankind and the world it inhabits. Yet it is heartening to note some world leaders still spare a thought for the planet, even if for different reasons.
The ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, has a lot on its agenda, the prime one being finalizing the rules of the 2015 Paris Agreement. And although not on the negotiations agenda, the conference is expected to discuss the forest policy, because the negotiations on market mechanisms, transparency and guidelines for building Nationally Determined Contributions will directly affect forests. Which has acquired added importance in the light of forest loss increasing significantly in Brazil even though it has decreased in Indonesia.
In particular, concluding the negotiations on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement is essential for finalizing deals on market mechanisms before 2020, so countries can use the to be created markets to fulfill their NDCs that in turn will allow them to channel funds for forest conservation.
That conservation of forests is critically important to keeping global temperature rise to within 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century is general knowledge today. However, a UN report last month said the world has to triple its emission reduction efforts to stay within 2C rise. Why? Because the recent greenhouse gas (GHG) levels have set new records.
Yet even keeping the temperature rise to within 2C may not prevent the dieback of coral reefs, sea level rise or extreme weather. The aim therefore should be a 1.5C rise in temperature, which seems impossible, given the current state of the world and its obsession with business as usual – and in many cases a disdain for anything beneficiary to the environment, ecology or biodiversity.
But for now, let’s focus on the findings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: continuous increase in GHG emissions over the next 12 years could lead to a “breaching of the 1.5C limit”. Which will be nothing short of a disaster for the future of the planet and its human inhabitants.
Thanks to the continuous rise in GHG emissions, the oceans have been absorbing an increasing amount of heat, which resulted in the mild La Nina event early this year only for El Nino conditions to return in October that could further raise temperatures.
The tragedy is, global temperatures have continuously increased in the first 10 months of this year, with the average rise in 2018 being 1C above pre-industrial levels. Sea ice and glaciers continue to melt, and sea levels are rising. The past four years have been the hottest on record, with the 20 warmest occurring in the past 22 years.
The warning is unmistakable, said the World Meteorological Organization last month, cautioning that, given the current trend, global warming could reach 3C to 5C by the end of this century, which could mean the end of the world as we know it.
Still, some governments continue to label climate change a hoax and insist human activities have nothing to do with global warming.
Well, not to put too fine a point on it, science says that’s baloney and warns that a lot of things are going to happen — none of them good — as is evident from the findings of the international organizations discussed above. Yet the concerted worldwide action to prevent that from happening has not been forthcoming.
Even the US should have the lowdown on that, as the 1,600-page National Climate Assessment report issued late last month warns about a world heading into complete chaos by the end of the 21st century without swift and immediate action.
The report, like the more comprehensive IPCC report, paints a stark picture that climate change is real, that if we continue as we are, things are going to go downhill rapidly, but — and fortunately it’s a big but — we already have most of the tools needed to aggressively curb carbon dioxide emissions, thereby limiting the rise in global average temperatures. What is needed is just the political will to use them.
But despite the current US administration insisting the Paris climate accord is harmful to the US economy and refusing to review its withdrawal from it, Xie Zhenhua, China’s special representative on climate change affairs, promised on Nov 26 in Beijing that the country will “implement the Paris Agreement, no matter what changes take place in other countries’ positions and attitudes”.
And if China, and other countries, can pursue stricter emissions control under such trying circumstances, there is no reason why others cannot – to save the world from doom.
We keep our eyes and ears open to the developments in Katowice with hope.
The author is a senior editor with China Daily.