Ken Fuller discuss the latest UN report on climate change.
One thing is clear: many of us will die unless decisive action is taken soon.
This is a conclusion which any rational person — and here we must exclude eccentric American conservatives, conspiracy theorists and those bought off by corporations prepared to put profit before the survival of the planet — would draw from the findings in the report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on March 31. The document, entitled “Climate Impacts, Adaptations and Vulnerability,” warns that climate change is already biting hard and will bite much harder unless the emission of greenhouse gases is substantially reduced.
Coastal communities are under threat as oceans rise and the seas are becoming more acidic, damaging reefs and killing whole species, due to the absorption of carbon dioxide caused by human activity. But cities are under threat as well. “Heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, as well as drought and water scarcity,” says the report, “pose risks in urban areas with risks amplified for those lacking essential infrastructure and services or living in exposed areas.”
Despite the occasional cold snap seized upon by irresponsible climate change deniers as “proof” that the earth is not warming, the fact of the matter is that heat-waves are becoming more intense, as are heavy downpours — something which no one living in the Philippines would doubt. And, as pointed out in a previous column when portions of the report were leaked late last year, the food supply is adversely affected, along with the water supply.
Says the IPCC report: “Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.”
It is predicted that the harshest effects of climate change will be felt in Asia, with hundreds of millions of people losing their homes as a result of flooding and famine. Most of the flooding, says the report, “will be in east, south-east and South Asia.” That’s us, folks.
The report, the IPCC’s first since 2007, distills the work of hundreds of climate change scientists. “Now we are at the point,” says Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, “where there is so much information, so much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance.”
The IPCC urges a war fought on two fronts: adoption of measures to adapt to the increasingly apparent effects of climate change, while at the same time working to reduce its causes, but there is a danger that efforts on the first front will be canceled out if those on the second falter and temperatures continue to rise.
Adaptation itself will be hugely expensive: it is estimated that poorer countries require $100 billion a year to adopt effective measures (think Yolanda) — a figure that rich countries, fearful that they will need to greatly increase their foreign aid (maybe that should be called compensation) budgets, succeeded in having edited out of the summary of the report that went to world leaders. That should set alarm bells ringing.
So how have the leaders of prosperous nations reacted to the report? UK foreign secretary William Hague sounded serious enough. “It is clear from the IPCC’s report,” he said, “that a two degree increase in the world’s temperature would be dangerous, and four degrees would be catastrophic. But that is the likely trajectory, unless there is unprecedented global cooperation to bring down emissions. No country would be left unaffected. Governments everywhere have to act.”
Hague’s special representative on climate change, Sir David King, warned that there “are limits to how much we can adapt to these impacts and only by working together to secure an international agreement to successfully lower carbon emissions can we hope to meet the climate challenge.”
Would Brits and the soon-to-be-flooded-again Asian masses be justified in taking heart from these stout pronouncements? Be prepared for disappointment. Let’s look at the track record of the government of which Hague is a member. And I mean recent track-record — as recent as 10 weeks before his words of March 31.
On Jan. 8 this year, the European Commission, upon which, of course, the UK is represented, reconsidered its position on climate change. Prior to the Commission’s deliberations, it was heavily lobbied by business groups arguing against the adoption of rigid targets. Were they successful? They were. Previously, the European Union (EU) was committed to national targets for the production of renewable energy. On Jan. 8, the Commission took the view that after 2020 these targets should be Europe-wide rather than national; thus, the whole of the EU will be committed to producing 27 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.
As the EU has 28 members, this will be all but impossible to enforce. Given Hague’s recent statement, one might suppose that his government had been a dissident voice on this occasion, but of course it was not. Instead, it praised the decision (which must still, however, be endorsed by the European Parliament). In addition, the Commission recommended that proposed laws to regulate “fracking,” a controversial method of extracting shale gas to which the UK government is committed, will be replaced by certain “minimum principles.”
It is widely thought that the reduction in European emissions achieved by 2012 (1990 levels were down by 18 percent) were in recent years at least partly due to reduced economic activity as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. Leading European governments are keen that the recovery from that crisis continues, and thus the business groups that lobbied the European Commission were to a certain extent pushing on an open door. The danger is that, having got their way, the emission reductions may now be reversed.
And that won’t be good news for Asia.
Ken Fuller writes a weekly column for the DailyTribune in the Philippines