IPCC Report on Climate Change: Clarion call for decisive collective action

Our planet has only 12 years until 2030 for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C and to limit a climate change catastrophe. 2030 falls within the lifetime of billions of people alive today. It is basically tomorrow

Will the world finally wake up and urgently act to save our homeland Planet Earth and humanity from the looming threats and disastrous fallouts of climate change? Or will the rising emissions of carbon dioxide choking the atmosphere and the wanton depredation of its rain forests, the lungs of Earth, which help absorb rising carbon emissions, go unabated driven by the insatiable greed for more and more profits by every means? Will the caucus of nations finally take the decisive collective actions necessary to assure a sustainable environment and habitat on Earth?

The report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) comprising the world leading scientists in the field which was released this week is damning. After reviewing more than 6,000 scientific works referenced in the report and the contribution of thousands of experts, the IPCC stated in a strongly worded and potent report that the use of coal to produce electricity must end and fossil fuels must be phased out to decrease carbon emissions if we are to meet the 2015 COP21 Paris Agreement commitment endorsed by 196 countries to inter alia limit global warming temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius and save planet Earth from impending disaster.

Only 12 years

A 1.5°C temperature rise is an absolute maximum.The scientists warn that our planet has only 12 years until 2030 for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C and to limit a climate change catastrophe. 2030 falls within the lifetime of billions of people alive today. It is basically tomorrow. Beyond this red line, ‘even half a degree of temperature rise will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.’

The report highlights that human activities such as the unchecked burning of fossil fuels including coal which release harmful carbon dioxide pollution into the atmosphere, deforestation and farming are responsible for global warming and the enormous damage caused to the planet. The upshot is that carbon dioxide levels which are the principal cause of global warming are presently at an unprecedented level never attained in the last 800,000 years. The sea level is expected to continue to rise at a faster level than over the past 40 years. Over the last two decades, the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctic have been melting and the glaciers have receded in most parts of the world. The world is already witnessing the dire consequences of a 1°C rise in global warming through such climate related changes as more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice. Already, almost every month heavy storms, torrential rains, floods, landslides and other freak natural disasters wreak havoc across the globe. They affect the common man and the vulnerable the most.

By limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C or more, the world could significantly lessen a number of adverse climate change fallouts. For example, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower by 2100 if global warming was limited to 1.5°C compared with 2°C. Similarly, the likelihood that the Arctic Ocean would be free of ice in the summer would be once in a century as opposed to once in a decade if the temperature were to rise by 2°C instead. Coral reefs would decrease by 70-90% if global warning was limited to 1.5°C whereas more than 99% would be lost with a 2°C rise. It is obvious that global warming beyond the threshold of 1.5°C exposes the world to the danger of irreversible climate changes and the loss of some ecosystems. The worst adverse impact would be on nature. Insects, which are vital for pollination of crops and plants, are almost twice more likely to lose their habitat with a 2°C rise in temperature than if the temperature rise was capped at 1.5°C.

Bold measures

The IPCC report will be presented to governments at the UN Katowice Climate Change Conference in Poland in December 2018 when governments review the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change. There is therefore  ise orelease not hide behind a fig leaf. to clamour for urgent andd  urgency for governments across the world to take stock of the mounting weight of objective scientific evidence and urgently take bold and unprecedented actions for profound changes in policy, the economic model used and in all aspects of society to avoid disastrous levels of global warming on Earth. In order to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C, global net emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach “net zero” around 2050.

In short, this will necessarily mean significantly reducing the amount of electricity generated from coal and fossil fuels whilst increasing the amount of electricity produced from clean and green energy sources like solar and wind, hydrogen fuel cells, wave energy, geothermal power, etc., and renewable sources such as from plant biomass, in order to significantly reduce carbon pollution.

However, despite the crying scientific evidence of an impending climate change catastrophe, politicians in the most polluting countries are irresponsibly doing the exact opposite of what is urgently required to save our planet for the current and future generations. In June 2017, the US President Donald Trump announced that the United States would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation after he had earlier lifted the ban imposed by the Obama administration in the wake of COP21, on new coal leasing on federal land.

At a time when the world needs to urgently launch a vast campaign of reforestation across the globe to absorb rising emissions of CO2 from the atmosphere, the candidate Jair Bolsonaro who won last Sunday’s first round of Brazil’s presidential elections has also vowed to take Brazil out of the Paris Agreement and to rashly open the Amazon rainforest to agribusiness. Across the world many countries are actively involved in fossil fuel extraction that is contrary to the spirit of their COP21 commitments. Thus, Britain is pushing ahead with gas fracking, Norway with oil exploration in the pristine waters of the Arctic and the German government wants to clear down Hambach forest to dig for coal. The IPCC report is a loud clarion call that none of this is on and must be scuttled forthwith.

Masking coal reality

In such a grim and momentous context, it is flabbergasting that at a time when Mauritius, in line with its commitments under COP21, should be significantly reducing its high dependence on coal which is the most polluting feedstock used to produce energy, the private sector and some politicians jockeying for their vested interests are still lobbying for coal cogeneration plants which principally use highly polluting coal and the renewal of their leonine IPP (Independent Power Plants) contracts. The burning of coal emits significantly more carbon dioxide (about 1.45 times more) in the atmosphere than other fossil fuels and nearly twice that produced from natural gas.

At a time when as a small island developing state the country is at risk from climate change, global warming and rising water levels, it is foolhardy and daft to mask the use of rising quantities of highly polluting coal behind a dwindling sugar cane bagasse production. The reality is that in 2017, 41.6% or the lion’s share of electricity generated in the country was produced from highly polluting coal whereas the share of electricity produced from bagasse fell to only 14.7%. An elephant cannot hide behind a fig leaf.

The IPCC report therefore raises important policy questions for Mauritius. First and foremost, urgent steps must be taken to, in priority, cut down our high energy production dependence on highly polluting coal and significantly increase the production of energy from green and renewable sources. It is equally important that appropriate measures are taken to ensure that the lucrative business of energy production is no longer a closed shop monopolized and ring fenced by some but opened to wider entrepreneurship and shareholding, new economic actors and new technologies. The more so as special financial support from diverse agencies and Adaptation funds are available under COP21 to enable countries to opt for energy production policies which significantly reduce carbon emissions and produce clean energy. Why then should the country embark on fossil fuel exploration in its exclusive economic zone? The continuous encroachment of hotel promoters on scarce public beaches also seems surreal in a context when our coastal lands risk being submerged and our beaches washed away if climate change and rising sea levels are not contained. In the face of this reality, it is high time for government policy to stop leasing land earmarked for public beaches to promoters forthwith.

Saving our planet

The world has a lifeline of 12 years till 2030 for cogent collective action to save the planet from a climate change catastrophe. The timeline is short. The countries of the world must act promptly and decisively. This is not the time for procrastination or half measures. The drastic actions required to halt and contain the adverse impact of climate change are challenging. There is only one way forward. This is too important an issue to be left to governments only or for people and mainstream citizens not to clamour for urgent and potent action.

The people of the world must therefore unite around the hashtag ‘#savingourplanet’ and imperatively have their say to drive the sustainable policies and viable pathways required forward to safeguard planet Earth from its depredators for the present and future generations.

* Published in print edition on 12 October 2018

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