Climate change: Past, present and future
A report compiled by the World Meteorological Organizations (WMO) under the direction of the United Nations Secretary-General highlighted some alarming indicators.
According to the WMO Global Atmosphere Watch, atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration continues to rise, despite emissions reductions in 2020 resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
In 2021, global fossil CO2 emissions returned to 2019 pre-pandemic levels after a significant but temporary drop in emissions due to widespread lockdowns.
It also noted that climate change made extreme heat and floods in 2022 worse; and warned that tipping points in the climate system could not be ruled out as global temperature increases. It also predicted that at least one year from 2022 to 2026 will be the hottest on record. The seven years from 2015-2021 were the warmest years on record. CO2 emissions in early 2022 were higher than pre-pandemic levels in early 2019.
While the countries announce their pledges to combat the climate crisis, this report suggests that these pledges need to be increased by seven times to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
Before delving deep into this discourse, there is a need to understand what caused climate change.
The outcomes of this report tell us that whatever we are pledging and doing to fight climate change is not enough, and much more needs to be done if we have to avert this crisis walloping us.
However, the question is can we solve this crisis? Moreover, if there was any such precedent when we dealt with the immense problem. Why is it so difficult to solve the imminent existential threat, not for one community but all?
For thousands of years, the concentration of CO2 has been varying inconsistently throughout history. It was only ten thousand years ago when it stabilized for reasons not found yet and created an atmosphere liveable for humans, and civilization started prospering.
However, many human interventions, notably the Industrial Revolution, altered the environmental condition and disturbed the natural balance. The use of fossil fuels to meet the growing needs of the burgeoning population resulted in an increase in the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere.
These gases trap heat and keep it from entering back into space. In this way, these gases cause a global atmospheric temperature rise, called global warming.
The bad situation was worsened by disproportionate land use, deforestation and excessive use of fertilizers. Since the beginning of evolution, the atmospheric temperature has risen about 1.2oC. It is expected to rise by 4oC to 5oC by 2100 if no serious measures are taken. This rise in temperatures is resulting in a plethora of problems for both aquatic and land species.
Rising sea levels, extreme heat waves, inconsistent rain patterns, more frequent and more intense floods and wildfires, urban flooding and increased multiple diseases are the few negative impacts of only a 1.1degree rise. Nevertheless, this is just the tip of iceberg of what lies ahead.
Understanding the repercussions of not taking action makes one wonders why there is a lack of urgency to deal with the global existential threat.
Why don’t leaders declare an environmental emergency if they believe in it? Why are leaders not leading the way like they ought to? The answer to all these questions lies in the following paragraphs.
The economy is at the centre of cause, effect and solutions to the climate crisis. In 2009, at the fifteenth conference of parties (COP15), the developed countries agreed to secure $100bn annually by 2020 for climate mitigation and climate adaptation, especially in developing countries. However, this target has not yet been reached.
However, much to our chagrin, this deadline to contribute $100bn annually was extended till 2023. Historically, the developed world has been responsible for climate change as they have emitted the highest percentage of CO2 emissions. For example, the EU, the US and China contribute 69% of carbon emissions.
The developing countries have the lowest share of damaging the environment, yet they are worst affected by its repercussions. The delay in allocating a committed share of funds further widens the climate divide between the global North and the global South.
Secondly, in Paris Climate Agreement 2015, it was agreed upon that all states would present their climate action to reduce carbon emissions in the form of nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
Although many countries pledged to transform their economies by adopting green energy sources to phase out fossil fuels gradually, the commitments are still insufficient to limit the temperature rise to 1.5oC. These are needed to increase up to seven times.
This rapid transformation of industries and shift to renewable energies required a considerable amount of resources, capital, and advanced technology, which are unavailable to most countries.
Last but not the least, we lack a global consensus. Climate change is a global challenge, and global challenges require global efforts and consensus.
India, the most significant contributor to carbon emissions in the world, has largely refrained from making pledges to phase out fossil fuel consumption.
In COP26, India pledged to cut CO2 emissions by 45 % by 2070, over the 2005 level. It is yet to witness how it reflects in its actions. Because till now, the actions of many countries have been in contradiction to their commitments, such as the increased fuel subsidies by G20 countries in 2020.
The above factors may make the reader despair and hopeless. However, there is a silver lining in the cloud.
Our commitments have increased, and due to pressure from the public and civil society, it can be expected that the governments across the globe will reflect their commitments into actions.
With unity, we have restored the ozone layer over Antarctica. It gives us hope that we can also avert the global catastrophe of climate change by working together to commit and implement more ambitious plans to reduce CO2 emissions.
—The writer is a Civil Engineer with interest in Climate Change.