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Let us take climate change seriously

  • Published at 11:58 pm April 27th, 2019
Poor countries suffer the most
Poor countries suffer the most / MEHEDI HASAN

Climate change is a problem of the present, not just the future

The dire effects of climate change have been drawing the attention of the world in general since 2017, but more so over the past year and a half. 

There have been differences of opinion among the climatologists, economists, and those involved with the socio-cultural matrix. Questions are being raised as to how to generate the required funding. 

However, there is a convergence of opinion with regards to the effect that climate change is turning upside down the lives of the world’s poorer sections.

This aspect gained particular attention after the powerful cyclone Idai destroyed most of the city of Beira, Mozambique, ripping the foundations of bridges, bursting riverbanks, and sweeping away homes. Nearly a month later, life is still a long way from normal.

Cyclone Idai is only the latest extreme weather event to blight the vulnerable region, affecting more than half a million people and filling humanitarian camps with tens of thousands of people. The UN’s Economic Commission for Africa has estimated that Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi may have lost $1 billion of infrastructure in this cyclone.

It is now generally agreed by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) that the 2015-16 El Niño weather cycle, believed to be the strongest in 50 years, has severely affected Southern Africa’s food security. 

FAO believes that unseasonable dry weather conditions in large swathes of Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Madagascar have led to nearly 32 million people being unable to afford the resources to acquire food in 2016.

We have also seen that, in 2018, drought, population growth, and effects of climate change have nearly made Cape Town the first city in the world to run out of water.

Several sessions organized through the efforts of the UN have pointed out how the multi-faceted effects of climate change are promoting inequality, particularly in the developing world. 

Meanwhile, economists have drawn attention to the fact that the biggest culprits in this ball game are the world’s richest nations who are the largest emission producers -- by burning fossil fuels and modern farming practices that produce climate change-causing emissions.

Using climate model projections, geo-physicists have found out that if global average surface temperatures reached the 1.5C or 2C limit -- set by the Paris Agreement -- countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo would feel the changes brought on by global warming more keenly than higher latitude countries like the UK or Sweden.

Some analysts from the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) at the School of Geography and Environment in Oxford University have, however, also pointed out that this does not mean that developed countries are immune to climate change effects. 

In this context, they have referred to the terrible effects of Hurricane Harvey (a storm whose intensity was linked to climate change) that caused terrible flooding in the summer of 2017 around Houston and surrounding counties. 

Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton professor of geo science and international affairs, while commenting on the efforts undertaken, has correctly pointed out that better preparation about potential outfall of climate change will nevertheless be possible due to “wealthy countries like the United States being able to prepare and cope with problems like climate change better than poorer countries.”

An example of this was seen in 2016, when the US Department of Housing and Urban Development provided $48.3m to the State of Louisiana to help with the climate relocation of the entire community on Isle de Jean Charles, which has lost nearly 97% of its land to the sea in the last 60 years.

Compared to this, one can only imagine how rising sea water levels will affect the vulnerable southern coastal districts of Bangladesh, and how the people will suffer due to paucity of funds. 

Ricardo Safra de Campos of the British University of Exeter has, in this regard, drawn attention to the fact that monsoon rains and flooding in 2017 led to the death of 1,200 persons and suffering among 41 million people in Bangladesh. In addition, there was destruction of infrastructure and of at least 950,000 houses in the rural affected areas.

Relevant authorities of the Bangladesh government, despite a lack of funds, have taken the initiative to build not only anti-cyclone shelters, coastal embankments, flood control stations, a large water retention basin, the restoration of a storm drainage system and canals, but have also invested in cyclone and flood warning prediction systems.

As events in Mozambique, Bangladesh, and the Philippines have shown, climate change is a problem of the present. Not just the future.

It is such a scenario that has persuaded Bangladesh to demand the UN to take necessary steps for materializing the pledges for mobilizing $100bn annually by 2020, consistent with the Paris Agreement. 

We have also reiterated the need for the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund to mitigate adverse effects of climate change. Attention has also been drawn to the need of the international community to support the vulnerable developing countries with financial resources and appropriate technologies in support of their adaptation efforts.

We need to formulate a wider Community Based Adaptation Action Plan with least common denominators pertaining to capacity building that will be acceptable to countries and vulnerable communities that are facing the turmoil of climate change. 

We can then present it in the special climate summit that is being convened by the UN in September this year in New York. Such a plan could have a sub-regional and regional focus and attempt to have an interactive engagement with the efforts that are being undertaken also in this regard by the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) which is headed by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Despite some world leaders refusing to accept that climate change is taking place, time has now arrived for all of us to accept the responsibility of our future and try to create a better tomorrow for our next generation.

We need to, in this regard, take lessons from the recent discovery of Antarctica’s lost forests that have emerged across exposed rocks. These mummified twigs of shrubs grew on the continent some three to five million years ago before climate change took the toll during the time period in the epoch geologists call the Pliocene, 2.6 to 5.3 million years ago. 

They serve as a warning to the world about where climate change could take us if carbon emissions go unchecked. 

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]