Earth faces cli­mac­tic mo­ment

A UN re­port warns about the ef­fect of global warm­ing but says the tools ex­ist to avert this fate

Mail & Guardian - - News - Sipho Kings

Twelve years — that’s how long we have to make fun­da­men­tal changes to the way we do things. Fail and, by 2030, the world will be locked into the worst of cli­mate change.

In South­ern Africa, we have al­ready had a taste of the worst. By 2040, nowhere will be safe. By the end of this cen­tury, life will be ter­ri­ble for ev­ery­one.

This isn’t the dra­matic lan­guage of jour­nal­ism seek­ing sen­sa­tion­al­ism. It’s the con­clu­sion of a ma­jor United Na­tions re­port on cli­mate change, ti­tled Global Warm­ing of 1.5°C. It was put to­gether by 91 sci­en­tists from 41 coun­tries, look­ing at 6000 sci­ence re­ports and tak­ing in 42000 pub­lic com­ments.

Their work is the re­sult of a com­pro­mise reached dur­ing the 2015 Paris Agree­ment, ac­cord­ing to which ev­ery coun­try agreed to do what it could to keep aver­age global warm­ing be­low 2°C this cen­tury. The world has al­ready warmed by 1°C since the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion.

As a rule of thumb, warm­ing is dou­ble on the African con­ti­nent. African coun­tries and is­land states wanted the goal to be 1.5°C. De­vel­oped coun­tries wouldn’t ac­cept this, but they agreed to the UN’s In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change pro­duc­ing a re­port on what it would take to get to a 1.5°C goal — and what would hap­pen if it was breached.

The 91 sci­en­tists (a hand­ful are from South Africa) con­cluded that the world has to change at a scale with “no doc­u­mented his­tor­i­cal prece­dent” to stay within this goal. Green­house gases — which come from cars, power sta­tions, fires, fridges, air con­di­tion­ers, elec­tri­cal in­su­la­tion, de­for­esta­tion and so much more — have to drop by 45% in 12 years and 100% by 2050.

Gov­ern­ments have kept de­lay­ing ac­tion (an agree­ment to tackle cli­mate was al­most signed in 1989). Put to­gether, the cur­rent plans by all gov­ern­ments will mean the world will warm by 4°C this cen­tury. Chil­dren to­day will still be alive then.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween 4°C and 1.5°C may seem small and the dif­fer­ence be­tween 1.5°C and 2°C even smaller but in cli­mate terms the dif­fer­ence is huge. South Africa is a semi-arid coun­try and El Niño shows that it doesn’t take much to create drought and crop fail­ure.

Gen­er­ally, the coun­try will get drier in the west and wet­ter in the east. Fyn­bos and suc­cu­lent Ka­roo ecosys­tems will dis­ap­pear un­der the ex­pand­ing Kala­hari desert. Cape Town won’t be safe from this shift. The Stel­len­bosch wine re­gion will be too hot for grapes. Peo­ple in Jo­han­nes­burg and Pre­to­ria will have to live through sum­mer days that reg­u­larly reach the 40s.

Higher tem­per­a­tures will mean more fires that re­lease more CO2 and burn down forests. When it does rain, it will come in vi­o­lent storms and with hail, which will wipe out crops. Food will be­come more ex­pen­sive.

But there is a whole load of hope in the Global Warm­ing of 1.5°C re­port. Enor­mous change must take place but the tech­nol­ogy and plans ex­ist to make it hap­pen. All these changes, such as shut­ting down coal­fired power sta­tions and mov­ing to green en­ergy and elec­tric ve­hi­cles, will re­duce car­bon emis­sions and, with less pol­lu­tion, make life bet­ter for peo­ple.

With each frac­tion of a de­gree be­ing so im­por­tant, in­di­vid­ual ac­tion will make a dif­fer­ence.

The klaxon has been sounded. It’s now in our hands.

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