NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 3 Nov) – The need to cap the temperature rise of the planet at 1.5 degrees Celsius is imperative to stop the Earth from careening irreversibly to the cliff of destruction from the wicked push of climate change. Without this brake scientists say a continuing temperature rise will reach a tipping point that may yet wipe out all forms of life on earth.
Global temperatures have been on the rise and right now the world is about 1.2 degrees C above late 1900 levels, where average global temperatures were then about 0.8 C cooler than now.
The radical warming of the planet is attributed to rapidly increasing greenhouse gases emission into the atmosphere in the last few decades resulting from the burning of fossil fuel in industries, buildings and transport, in grains farming and from large scale clearing of forestall lands to give way to plantation crops and livestock production, and in logging for lumber, construction materials and wood products. For instance, 20% of the Amazon forest – the so-called lungs of the earth – has been destroyed in recent years to meet various human needs and wants. The destruction emits large amount of carbon dioxide and water vapor into the atmosphere.
The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere block and deflect the unused heat energy from the sun and the heat waste from human activities back to the surface of the earth, which otherwise would have dissipated to outer space. The deflected heat dries grassland and forests to high kindling temperature that is prone to start unimaginable wildfires. It is also melting the polar ice and heating unusually the oceans, which cause massive evaporation and consequent heavy precipitation.
Already at current 1.2 degrees C temperature, the Earth’s natural process of radiation, evaporation, condensation and precipitation that makes climate predictable and weathers reliable has been infringed. It impacts the amount of water in the atmosphere and triggers violent downpours instead of steady showers or the seasonal rains.
The temperature disturbances in the oceans increase the power and frequency of typhoons and hurricanes; and flooding and tidal surges have recently become more common in land masses near the oceans. Moreover, the melting of polar icecaps adversely reduce their cooling effect on the planet, warming further the Earth surface, raising the sea level to as high as 5-7 meters and has already submerged some islands in the Pacific and is now threatening the safety of many coastal cities
The 144 countries participating in the 2015 Paris Agreement announced that the world should limit the global increase in this century to 1.5 degrees C, a stricter limit than the former goal of 2 degrees C increase.
However, since the Paris accord in 2015, scientists have issued increasingly urgent warnings that the 1.5C goal is slipping out of reach. To meet it, global emissions must plummet 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels, and reach net zero by 2050 – requiring huge changes to countries’ systems of transport, energy production, manufacturing and farming. Accordingly, countries’ current pledges would see global emissions soar by 16% by 2030.
Outstanding emitters, namely, China, US, the European Union, and India, which are responsible for 80% of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, are expected to bite the bullet – to reduce furthermore their emissions and invest big in financing global efforts in combatting the problems of climate change.
At countries’ existing pledges to cut emissions, the planet’s average temperature will, accordingly, rise to 2.7C this century, which the UN says would supercharge the destruction that climate change is already causing at present, killing coral reefs and ocean lives, destroying natural habitats, and devastating global food security.
Since carbon dioxide constitutes 72% of the greenhouse gases, it is the veritable target in emission reduction.
This implies that carbon emission from industrial and all other human activities that employ fossil fuel have to be reduced to zero on or before 2050 – a very tall order for everyone, both for industrialized and non-industrialized countries, but particularly for the former.
The Group of Twenty (G20) Leaders’ Summit 2021 on 30-31 October in Rome, accordingly focused on three broad, interconnected pillars of action: People, Planet, Prosperity, all in the context of global warming and climate change.
The G20 is composed of most of the world’s largest economies, including both industrialized and developing nations, and accounts for around 90% of gross world product (GWP), 75-80% of international trade, two-thirds of the global population, and roughly half the world’s land area.
The G20 2021 leaders’ summit in Rome, which revisited the 2015 goal on greenhouse emission, was hoped not just and to renew but to give more teeth to their individual pledges of greenhouse gas emission reduction. But the absence of the Chinese and the Russian president in the Rome gathering disparaged such hope.
The Rome G20 summit would be followed by the gathering of world leaders in the Scottish city of Glasgow on October 31 – November 12, 2021, for the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties 26 (COP26) summit, billed as a make-or-break chance to save the planet from the most calamitous effects of climate change.
COP26 aims to keep alive the target of capping global warming at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. The conference will look into country strategies – how each one is doing its share in greenhouse gases reduction. Issues and concerns like ending deforestation and in embarking in massive reforestation program, particularly in great forests of the earth, further development of clean and renewable energy and carbon-free electric cars, management of toxic wastes, and global cooperative financing to assist poor countries in doing their share in fighting global warming will fill the plates of world leaders.
Never before is mankind placed in the crossroads of survival and extinction, of life and death. That it is our choice to make is the saving grace. We need to put or act together to save the planet and civilization. The time is now.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)