We can only look at the planet’s fu­ture with hope

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Front Page -

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.

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