The August report by the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), provides a dark picture of the climate change crisis. In addition, while the previous reports alluded to human influence in creating climate change crisis, this 3,000-page report, and one that comes on the back of almost a decade-long research, indicates, ‘It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.’
The report is a result of years of exhaustive work by hundreds of scientists from around the globe. A consensus statement by 234 international scientists makes clear that the world faces a frightening future even if the global economy is decarbonizing rapidly.
Failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions deeply would lead to what a leading climatologist called “hell on earth” in just a few decades. Moreover, the report holds consensus approval from every country in the world, where changes suggested by individual countries were only included if the scientists involved in the report could come to a consensus that such inclusions were warranted.
Climate change crisis gains speed
Given the high standing of this report, its findings need to be taken very seriously, as it highlights that the climate change crisis has not only been happening but has unfolded with greater momentum during the last four decades. As per the report, each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850.
It pointed out that during the first two decades of this millennium, the global surface temperature was 0.99 °C. more than the average temperature during 1850-1900; that is since the first industrial revolution mainly took place. The temperature then further rose to 1.09°C during the proceeding decade of 2011-2020.
The catastrophic rate at which climate change has been happening can be seen from the graph below, which was created by Financial Times (FT), based on data by IPCC. The graph underlines little caution taken by humans to abide by environmentally plausible limits of usage of fossil fuel, going to the extent that kept a healthy balance between achieving economic gains through industrial revolution and advancement, the overall well-being of the planet, and the interest of future generations. The early 1980s seem to be a tipping point in exacerbation of the acceleration of climate change.
Global warming: From floods to wildfires
While the world came together and achieved a landmark agreement in the shape of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, the follow-up in terms of concrete and appropriately ambitious targets to reduce fossil fuel usage by countries has been lackluster, to say the least.
That is why the coming COP26 meetings in Glasgow (UK) later this year are so crucial, given the fast pace at which the climate change crisis is unfolding. This meeting was supposed to take place last year but was postponed due to the Covid pandemic.
However, since then, the climate change crisis has continued with all the more vigor, as could be seen in the wildfires and floods that took over the world. Indeed, the frequency and scope of these climate phenomena have increased.
This report, therefore, emphasizes in the strongest way that the window of opportunity to keep global warming below reasonable limits is closing fast. Highlighting the grave consequences of a climate change crisis in recent months, an Economist article ‘Where is climate change being felt most acutely?’ pointed out: ‘Climate catastrophes have come thick and fast in recent months.
In June an unprecedented heatwave blasted the Pacific Northwest, creating the conditions for devastating wildfires. In July extreme floods in central China killed more than 30 people. In August deadly fires have been blazing across Turkey and Greece.
Many parts of the world have also experienced much more heavy precipitation (particularly in central and eastern North America and most of Europe and Asia, as well as southern Africa); more droughts have been observed elsewhere.’
Unfulfilled promises to fight global warming
One thing that the IPCC report clearly indicates, especially given the exacerbating rate at which the climate change crisis has unfolded during the last four decades, is the urgent need for policy action.
Primarily, those countries with a significant carbon footprint need to come up with a concrete, actionable plan in the upcoming COP26 meetings. In this regard, Bloomberg, on the basis of its ‘Global Carbon Project’ highlighted that in 2019, only five countries globally contributed more than 50 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions, with China and the US alone producing 29 percent and 15 percent, respectively, in this regard.
While the rich, advanced countries have such a massive impact in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, they have not yet fulfilled their pledge of providing $100 billion yearly to developing countries to assist them in the fight against the crisis.
The same was highlighted in a Guardian article ‘Move faster to cut emissions, developing world tells rich nations’ as ‘One of the major sticking points for the Cop26 talks is the rich world’s failure to make good on a promise originally made in 2009 that $100bn a year in climate finance would flow to poor countries by 2020 to help them cut emissions and cope with the impacts of global heating.’
Moreover, Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale of Gabon, who is the chair at COP26 meetings for the Africa group of negotiators, emphasized the lack of responsibility being taken by countries who are mainly contributing to the climate change crisis as ‘Developed countries are currently not pulling their weight or keeping their promises on their obligations to provide climate finance.
Like any negotiation, you need to have faith that pledges and commitments will be met. In 2009 and 2015, they promised to deliver climate finance by 2020. Yet this is still to be met, and we don’t have a clear plan to achieve it.’
If the world wishes to ensure some sort of reasonable level of existence in the future, it needs to keep global warming temperature at 1.5°C by 2040, for which greenhouse gases (GHG) will have to be substantially limited.
But beyond this would mean catastrophic consequences in terms of global warming and life on Earth, as pointed by a Guardian’s environment editor, Damian Carrington in his article ‘Climate crisis “unequivocally” caused by human activities, says IPCC report’ as follows: ‘…Some heating is already inevitable.
We will definitely hit 1.5°C in the next two decades, whatever happens to emissions, the IPCC finds. The only good news is that keeping to that 1.5°C is not yet impossible. …Even cutting emissions, but more slowly, leads to 2°C and significantly more suffering for all life on Earth.
If emissions do not fall in the next couple of decades, then 3°C of heating looks likely – a catastrophe. And if they don’t fall at all, the report says, then we are on track for 4°C to 5°C, which is apocalypse territory.’
Moreover, Damian Carrington, while highlighting the IPCC report in the same article, pointed out that the world had little space for fossil fuel usage, given according to the report ‘…2,400 billion tonnes of CO2 have been emitted by humanity since 1850, and that we can only leak another 400bn tons to have a 66 percent chance of keeping to 1.5C.
In other words, we have blown 86 percent of our carbon budget already, though the report says the science is clear that if emissions are slashed then temperatures will stop rising in a decade or two and the increases in deadly extreme events will be strongly limited.’
A lesson from Pakistan?
Going forward, the rich, advanced countries will have to come up with a concrete, actionable plan at the upcoming COP26 meetings on how to reduce reliance on fossil fuel so that the desired target of 1.5°C is achieved.
This makes the meetings exceedingly crucial since the global surface temperature, according to the IPCC report, already rose to 1.09°C. Secondly, the commitment to provide $100 billion a year to developing countries as climate finance needs to be fulfilled at the earliest.
In addition, the world can learn from Pakistan’s ambitious tree plantation experience, which has already come true on its goal of planting one billion trees in the country and is now working towards the goal of planting ten billion trees in the next few years.
However, developing countries like Pakistan need to bring coherence in their overall macroeconomic policy. For instance, in the recent Budget, the government of Pakistan incentivized small-medium-sized car sales by reducing taxes, which does not augur well with its plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Instead, it should, for example, move towards more public transport facilitation, which is run on less polluting/renewable energy sources.
On the global scale, there needs to be a consensus on a ‘new green deal,’ which ensures that there are zero emissions by 2050. This is an important desirable target based on low GHG emissions scenario going forward, as highlighted by the IPCC report as one of the five scenarios in which global warming will take place, and its corresponding impact on climate change crisis in terms of severity.
‘Elaborating on a ‘green new deal’ and its role in meaningfully reversing climate change crisis, Robert Pollin in his book ‘Climate crisis and the global green new deal’ with Noam Chomsky, pointed out ‘As such, by my definition, the core of the global Green New Deal is to advance a global project to hit… [carbon dioxide emissions reduction] targets, and to accomplish this in a way that also expands decent job opportunities and raise mass living standards for working people and the poor throughout the world.’
These two renowned intellectuals point out in their book that ‘…it will require an average level of investment spending throughout the global economy of about 2.5 percent of global GDP per year, focused in two areas… [whereby] improving energy efficiency standards… and… expanding the supply of clean renewable energy sources…’
Dr. Omer Javed is an institutional political economist, who previously worked at the International Monetary Fund, and holds PhD in Economics from the University of Barcelona. He tweets @omerjaved7.