We must stop being blind about climate change

Muhammad Zamir | Published: April 22, 2019 20:41:30

The dire effects of climate change have been drawing the attention of the world since 2017 but more so over the past year and a half. Discussions on this issue are taking place in different platforms. There have been differences of opinion among the climatologists, economists and those involved with the socio-cultural matrix. However, there is convergence of opinion with regard to the effect that climate change is turning the lives of the world's poorer sections upside down.

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. Today, Beira exists on the map but has been "90 per cent wiped out" because of the effects of global warming. This is the view of the citizens who live in that section of the world.

 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. The UN's Economic Commission for Africa has estimated that Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, may have lost $1.0 billion worth of infrastructure in this cyclone.

Several sessions organised through the efforts of the United Nations have pointed out how the multi-faceted effects of climate change is promoting inequality, particularly in the developing world. The United Nations estimates that 4.2 billion people have been hit by weather-related disasters in the last two decades, with low-income countries suffering the biggest losses. Geo-physical research has also revealed that most of the world's poorest who live in equatorial regions (which already have high average temperatures) suffer the impact of even a tiny rise in temperature.

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 1.5 or 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) limit -- set by the Paris Agreement -- countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh or the Democratic Republic of the Congo would feel the changes brought by global warming more keenly than higher latitude countries like the United Kingdom 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. 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, USA, and surrounding counties. Apparently, 80 people died because of this sudden occurrence and relevant authorities in that area had to evacuate more than 120,000 people. They have also drawn attention to Europe's uncharacteristically hot and dry summer of 2018 which most people believe is likely linked to climate change.

One can only imagine how rising sea water level due to climate change 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.

It may be mentioned that relevant authorities of the Bangladesh government, despite paucity of funds, have taken the initiative to build not only cyclone shelters, coastal embankments, flood control stations, a large water retention basin, restoration of a storm drainage system and canals but also developed cyclone and flood warning prediction systems. These efforts have been undertaken at the same time when the government has to find scarce funds for providing shelter on humanitarian grounds to nearly one million Rohingya refugees fleeing from atrocities and crimes committed on them in the Rakhine State of Myanmar by the Myanmar law enforcement personnel and Buddhist militants.

As events in Mozambique, Bangladesh and the Philippines have shown, climate change is a problem of the present. It is such a scenario that has persuaded Bangladesh to demand in the United Nations to take necessary steps for materialising the pledges for mobilising US$100 billion by 2020 consistent with the Paris Agreement. The country  has also reiterated the need for the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund to mitigate adverse effects of climate change. This approach has been mentioned during the recent intervention made by M. Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh our State Minister for Foreign Affairs, during his participation in the High Level Meeting on Climate and Sustainability Development for All held in the UN Headquarters in New York in late March. Attention was also drawn by him 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.

Saleemul Huq has correctly observed that we are now living "in a post-human-induced-climate change world and things will only get worse unless the world steps up its efforts to keep the global temperature below 1.5 Degrees".

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 being convened by the United Nations 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 through global warming, 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 in the middle of Antarctica-- the white continent. 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, 2.6-5.3 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.



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