The World Around Us
August 6, 2021
Adapt or Die

AT 1.2 or 1.3 degrees Celsius (?) above preindustrial levels, planet earth is hotter now than it has ever been in the history of human civilisation. While the precise scale of future warming remains uncertain, scientific modelling suggests that it would be difficult to prevent the world from warming by a further 1.5 ? by 2050. By 2100, the prediction is that the earth would heat by 2-3 ?. Over 90% of publishing climate scientists agree that carbon pollution, linked to human activity, is chiefly responsible for a warming planet.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS), mainly in the Caribbean and the Pacific, have for a long time, suffered the brunt of climate change. For decades, SIDS have had to contend with more frequent and more intense storms, sea level rise, extreme flooding and a host of other weather events linked to climate change. However, recent freak weather events in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa provided a reminder that climate change is a global problem which requires global solutions.

Last month, a storm which dumped a month’s worth of rain in a day in some places, caused widespread flooding in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. In Germany, nearly 200 people died.

In China, also last month, over 300 people died from flooding in Zhengzhou, the state capital of Henan province. It is estimated that a year’s worth of rain fell in Zhengzhou in just three days. In Nigeria, heavy rainfall in the southwest of the country caused flooding in Lagos, it’s largest city. This also happened in July.

Studies have shown a causal relationship between an increase in extreme downpours and a warmer world, with the latter causing the former. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations- backed group that reports on the science and impacts of global warming, has said that the frequency of extreme weather events will increase as temperatures continue to rise. Of course, these events do not discriminate between big and small countries. Nonetheless, SIDS remain much more vulnerable than other countries.

Failure to adapt to climate change, as well as failure to slow and ultimately reverse global warming, will lead to death for people and ultimately the planet. This is a morbid assessment, but unfortunately, that is where we are heading if efforts at mitigation are not forthcoming or prove to be insufficient. The United Kingdom’s Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG) recently confirmed that greenhouse gas levels were already at such a high level that they foreclosed a “manageable future for humanity.” According to Sir David King, head of the CCAG, “Nowhere is safe.”

The choice before us is a binary one – to adapt or to die. David Wallace-Wells, author of “The Uninhabitable Earth” and editor at large at New York Magazine, proposes a number of adaptation measures, most of them huge and resource intensive. For example, in response to sea level rise, Wallace-Wells notes that perhaps half the world’s coastline will have to be eventually abandoned, with the other half protected by defensive infrastructure. Moreover, he suggests that flood-alarm systems and concrete bunkers can also help.

Furthermore, restoring beach vegetation, promoting new farming techniques, protecting forests, reducing and eventually eliminating fossil fuel use, adopting clean energy technologies and providing massive financial support to developing countries can all make a difference. However, the biggest polluters also owe it to the rest of us to pursue rapid decarbonisation.

The top two biggest global polluters account for nearly half of global Greenhouse Gas emissions. The top five biggest polluters account for over 60 percent of emissions. This suggests that while we are all impacted, we are not all responsible for climate change and its impacts. Essentially, the vast majority of countries are collateral damage.

Pressure must therefore be kept on the major polluters to play their part as the world prepares for the global climate change conference in October/November this year.

l Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development.

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