The “irreversible” impacts of global warming

“What makes climate change difficult is that it is not an instantaneous catastrophic event, it is a slow-moving problem that, on a day-to-day basis, people do not feel and see. “- During one of the talks, Barack Obama, ex-president of the United States, drew attention to a quieter war which is now a matter of grave concern. Rising seas, frightening storms, deadly droughts and other symptoms of a planet choking on its fumes are happening now. When we hear about rising temperatures and the impact they are having on our planet, we can feel a huge challenge. But how do we deal with the most serious crisis of our time that is unfolding faster than we feared?

The 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) has declared this to be a “decisive year” in the fight against climate change. No corner of the globe is immune to the devastating consequences of climate change. Some painful realities of climate change demand our attention before it becomes more crucial.

Climate impact is not a distant reality, it is happening now

Rising temperatures, natural calamities, extreme weather conditions, food and water insecurity are serious issues facing the world today. Natural disasters such as floods, cyclones and fires caused by the climate crisis have driven millions of people from their homes each year for a decade. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that human-induced climate change is causing widespread disruption of nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world. Another IPCC report indicates that the global warming limit of 1.5°C could be exceeded by 2040. Crop productivity growth in Africa is severely affected due to climate change. More than half of the world’s population faces water scarcity. Several climate-sensitive diseases like malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, cholera and Lyme disease are expected to soar. The world is also facing a biodiversity crisis, with animals and birds moving to higher latitudes and altitudes or experiencing mass mortality. Animals such as Bramble Cay Melomys (a small rodent) and golden toads are nearly lost. 99% of the golden toad population has declined in a single year.

Companies exposed to risks due to climate change

A major impact of climate change will be seen on food production and crop growth, which could push 122 million people into extreme poverty. Man is responsible for climate change largely due to greenhouse gas emissions. The global average for atmospheric carbon dioxide hits a new high and peaks at 420 parts per million. UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 2021 World Leaders Summit warned the world: “Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink. Enough of killing us with carbon. We dig our graves. Exposure to CO2 can lead to rapid breathing, confusion, increased cardiac output, high blood pressure, etc. The climate crisis can also pose a serious threat to children’s health. Around the world, a “dramatic increase” in flooding could be seen in 2030. Species and ecosystems may also face severe impacts from climate change and mangrove forests will not be able to survive by 2050.

The rise in global temperature and its irreversible impact

The planet’s average surface temperature has increased by about 2°F (1°C) due to excessive emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to a report published by the IPCC, average global temperatures will increase by 2.1 to 3.5°C, which is above the limit of 1.5 to 2°C set as a goal by the nations that signed the Paris climate agreement in 2015. Global temperature fluctuation is the main reason for extreme cold and heat in many parts of the world. The impact of global warming on bodies such as glaciers, ice caps and oceans will continue to be felt for centuries. Global sea levels are projected to rise 3.9 meters (13 feet) by 2150, altering entire coastlines currently inhabited by millions of people. In addition, 14% of terrestrial species will face high risks of extinction due to global warming. The most serious impacts of global warming such as massive forest loss, ice sheet collapse or an abrupt change in ocean circulation cannot be ruled out. The Earth is warming and its adverse effects are intense droughts, stronger storms, longer heat waves and extreme precipitation. Sea levels are rising, forests are burning, the Arctic is melting and the oceans are acidifying. Climate change is already impacting every corner of the world and spreading widely, which can bring multiple dangers. Droughts and heat waves can have negative consequences for agriculture, heat-related mortality can increase and the rate of labor productivity can drop. The direct impact of low labor productivity will be seen in low family incomes. Rising food prices due to the climate crisis may further intensify health risks such as malnutrition.

Development challenges

The IPCC report suggests that around 3.3 to 3.6 billion people are highly vulnerable to climate disasters. Other risks are attached to it, such as poverty, weak governance and limited access to basic services such as health care. This challenge is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where 60% of the urban population lives in informal settlements, and in Asia, where 529 million people reside in these vulnerable areas. People who depend on agriculture, tourism and fishing for their livelihoods are directly exposed to climate risks. They are forced to move to urban centers due to the unavailability of basic sources and low incomes which force them to live on the margins. The climate crisis can have a cascading effect on people’s health, food security, access to drinking water and livelihoods, making them even more vulnerable to future risks.

Towards transformative change

In view of the alarming threats, urgent action is needed to adapt to climate change. Adaptation is the strategy here; it is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly and deeply to keep the maximum number of adaptation windows open. There is an urgent need to find sustainable adaptation solutions that are “effective, feasible and capable of reducing risks to societies and ecosystems”. Currently, 170 countries are integrating adaptation into their climate policies.

Summary

Adaptation and mitigation, by promoting social innovation, health, equity and inclusion, have the potential to deliver many co-benefits. The solution lies in stepping up our efforts to tackle this climate change problem and in bold, collective action. “Supporting nature is the best way to adapt and slow down climate change. Nature can be our saviour, but only if we save it first.



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Disclaimer

The opinions expressed above are those of the author.



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Teresa H. Sadler