Climate Change is not an Unstoppable Force
THE NOVEL coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has imprinted itself on our consciousness to the extent that it makes it easy to forget that there are other pressing issues. One such issue is the climate change crisis which I also wrote about last week. Earlier this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the international body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change, issued its Sixth Assessment Report. One of the key takeaways from the report is that climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying.
In last week’s column, I placed attention on widespread flooding in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa which claimed the lives of hundreds and caused billions in infrastructural damage. After the floods came the fire. At the time of writing, wildfires were raging across Europe and North America, fuelled by sweltering temperatures and dry conditions. In the United States for example, wildfires have scorched an area of California which is nearly five times the size of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In Canada, since March, wildfires have burnt a forested area in British Columbia which is just over half the size of Jamaica.
Whether it is extreme flooding, more intense storms or more severe droughts, the scientific consensus is that climate change is responsible for these weather events.
However, climate change does not occur in a vacuum. As the IPCC report states, “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”
Specific to the Caribbean, the IPCC Report states with high confidence that under a scenario where global warming occurs at two degrees Celsius and above, there will be a declining trend in rainfall during the months of June, July and August. The report also states with medium confidence that higher evapo-transpiration (the amount of evaporation from the land surface plus transpiration from plants) under a warming climate will result in increased aridity and more severe agricultural and ecological droughts. Less rainfall and more droughts point to a future of increased food and livelihood insecurity for the Caribbean.
At the root of our inability to rein in human influence on the planet are greed and selfishness, two sides of the same coin. The human appetite to accumulate wealth is near insatiable, even if the price we pay is the destruction of the only place we call home. This fascination with wealth accumulation is also matched by an insatiable appetite to consume and humans have demonstrated the capacity to consume even if extinction is the ultimate price to be paid. Against this background, the needs of future generations become subservient to the greed and selfishness of the present.
Fortunately, all is not lost and there is still a window of opportunity to pull back from the precipice. United Nations (UN) Secretary General, António Guterres, has expressed hope that the IPCC Report will “sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.” Helen Clarkson, Chief Executive Officer of the Climate Group, which represents over 220 regional governments and 300 multinational businesses, covering 1.75 billion people and 50 percent of the global economy, maintains that “Every decision, every investment, every target, needs to have the climate at its core.”
Finally, decision makers in cabinet rooms and board rooms are aware of the steps required to move us radically in the right direction. However, it boils down to political will. As Kristina Dahl of the Union of Concerned Scientists puts it, “The continued dithering to address climate change is no longer about the lack of scientific evidence, but directly tied to a lack of political will.” The science is irrefutable. The ball is now squarely in the court of political and business leaders.
Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development.
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