The Climate Change Emergency

By Mrinal Roy

Mauritius is particularly vulnerable to the adverse impact of climate change. We cannot continue to ring fence and principally use highly polluting coal in lucrative power plants to produce our electricity requirements

The damaging fallouts of climate change and global warming have placed the world in a state of emergency. Our homeland, planet Earth is under serious threat. The potent risks of an impending climate change catastrophe forecast by unequivocal scientific evidence have mobilized people and in particular the young, the Extinction Rebellion and the Friday for Future movements, climate change scientists and activists from across the world to press governments for urgent actions to reverse the adverse impacts of climate change on planet Earth.

Climate change scientists believe that the most urgent action to be taken is to significantly cut down carbon emissions at latest by next year by ending the use of highly polluting coal to produce electricity and phasing out the use of other fossil fuels. Small island developing states (SIDs) including Mauritius which are home to 65 million people are particularly vulnerable to the adverse fallouts of climate change such as coastal erosion, the submersion of vast coastal areas, the bleaching of corals and the adverse impact on biodiversity. Will the world governments finally act responsibly to save the planet from a climate change catastrophe for the young and future generations?”

The COP25 climate conference currently held in Madrid, Spain comes at a time when new scientific data shows that the climate emergency is getting worse every day and is impacting people’s lives everywhere, whether from extreme heat, air pollution, wildfires, devastating floods or droughts. The President of the UN General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, warned leaders of over 200 countries attending COP25 that ‘if current trends in global emissions continue, they will cause further warming and humans will face increasingly severe and extreme weather events. Lands are being degraded. Forests, ecosystems and biodiversity are being lost. Our oceans are facing pollution, acidification and loss of coastal habitats.’

Extreme weather conditions and climate change related disasters are becoming more and more frequent, more damaging and wreaking havoc across the world. They are causing unprecedented human and socioeconomic costs. More than 280 million people are at risk of displacement due to sea level rise.

Absorbing the rising heat

Scientists from nearly every leading university and research institution on Earth from Harvard to NASA have studied climate change and global warming for more than 100 years. They have gathered evidence and reviewed each other’s work.

The intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) special report on the ocean and the cryosphere (the frozen parts of the planet) approved in September 2019 by the 195 IPCC member governments, highlighted that ‘global warming has already reached 1°C above the pre-industrial level, due to past and current greenhouse gas emissions. The report notes that the ocean has warmed unabated since 1970 and has taken up more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system, with consequences now visible in increased ocean acidification, stratification and loss of oxygen. The IPCC Vice-Chair Ko Barrett said that ‘water is the lifeblood of the planet and the world’s ocean and cryosphere have been “taking the heat” from climate change for decades, with sweeping and severe consequences for nature and humanity.’

The key to reversing the disastrous fallouts of climate change on planet Earth is to drastically reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The stark reality is that the current commitments to cut down greenhouse gas emissions are not ambitious enough to significantly reduce the adverse impact of climate change and save the planet from impending disaster.

The news from the COP25 summit currently held in Madrid is therefore not very good. Instead of focusing on concrete and potent actions aimed at drastically and swiftly cutting down greenhouse gas emissions to match the scale of the crisis facing the planet, the talks seems to be unable to see the forest for the trees. Instead of urgently coming forward with an ambitious and comprehensive plan to save the planet, the talks seem mired on peripheral issues.

At a time when our planet and future generations are facing impending disaster, governments still seem to pander to the greed and interests of coal and other corporate lobbies instead of taking the bold decisions required to urgently replace the use of coal and other fossil fuels to produce electricity 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.

The plan to counter the adverse impact of climate change should also include massive reforestation programmes across the world to absorb the large amount of CO2 emissions choking the planet. In order to win the battle against climate change and global warming we also require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of our society, habits and the way the economy operates to make them eco-friendly.

Unabated carbon emissions

It must be flagged that more than a year has elapsed since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that global warming must be limited to 1.5 degree Celsius by 2030 if we are to save planet Earth from impending disaster. This means cutting net human carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 45% by 2030 and cutting emissions further to net zero by 2050. The clock is ticking. We now have only 11 years to meet this target. Unchecked greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated to choke the atmosphere despite repeated scientific warnings over three decades and multiple resolutions by governments to tackle and resolve the problem.

Climate change and global warming are caused by heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) released in the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels such as highly polluting coal, fuel oil or natural gas. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that this is causing extreme weather conditions, monster storms, record temperatures, extremely damaging floods, landslides and rising sea levels which cause profound damage to ecosystems and people. The ocean is warmer, more acidic and is impairing corals and sea life. Melting glaciers and ice sheets are causing sea level rise and severe coastal erosion.

Carbon dioxide levels are higher today than any point in at least 800,000 years. The cars we drive, the coal and fuel we burn for electricity and warmth, the food we eat and the forests we clear are the cause of global warming and climate change. Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for some 40 years, though its effects stay much longer. Its cumulative effect is to raise the planet’s temperature. Heat from the sun that would otherwise escape remains trapped, warming the oceans, land, and air. As temperatures rise, the adverse fallouts of climate change are more devastating. Rising temperatures and droughts affect food supplies causing dire hardships to some 800 million people living in extreme poverty. The seas rise. Droughts and wildfires become worse. Extreme weather becomes more common. Eventually, entire regions will become uninhabitable and significantly increase the risk of conflicts over scarcer resources

Climate change scientists point out that the coal-fired power plants currently planned or in construction are enough to produce double the amount of carbon emissions that can safely be put in the atmosphere for the next century. Such wanton irresponsibility cannot go on.

Governments cannot therefore continue to remain blind to the mounting scientific evidence and the devastating consequences of climate change in countries across the world. July 2019 was the hottest month on record on the planet.

Dire situation

The world therefore faces a dire situation. Climate change scientists believe that the most urgent action to be taken is to significantly cut down carbon emissions at latest by next year by ending the use of highly polluting coal to produce electricity and phasing out the use of other fossil fuels. Small island developing states (SIDs) including Mauritius which are home to 65 million people are particularly vulnerable to the adverse fallouts of climate change such as coastal erosion, the submersion of vast coastal areas, the bleaching of corals and the adverse impact on biodiversity. Will the world governments finally act responsibly to save the planet from a climate change catastrophe for the young and future generations?

Time is of the essence. The United States which is the second most polluting country of the world, accounting for some 15% of carbon emissions, has walked out of the 2015 COP21 Paris Agreement and the commitment to take cogent actions to reverse the disastrous fallouts of climate change and global warming on planet Earth. The level of carbon emissions has also been worsened in 2019 by a staggering 121,000 forest fires in Brazil, more than half of which were in the Amazon as well as forest fires covering 102,515 hectares in California in the US and a ‘mega blaze’ currently raging across almost 300,000 hectares near Sydney in Australia.

The world therefore faces a state of emergency. Governments can no longer drag their feet or bury their heads in the sand. They have to collectively translate a common determination and will to win the battle against the adverse impact and throes of climate change and global warming through concrete and potent actions. There can be only one outcome. This battle must be won if we are to safeguard the planet for the young and future generations.

As a small island developing state, Mauritius is particularly vulnerable to the adverse impact of climate change. We cannot continue to ring fence and principally use highly polluting coal in lucrative power plants to produce our electricity requirements and in the same breath lobby COP25 and the world to drastically cut down their carbon emissions to protect us against the dire consequences of climate change on SIDS. We need to lead by example to be credible in our battle to safeguard the country from the serious risk of a climate change catastrophe.

Clamour of the young

Climate change is the biggest emergency and challenge facing humanity and governments across the world. Hundreds of thousands of people and in particular the young are already in the streets to lobby governments to safeguard their future, significantly cut down carbon emissions by urgently ending and replacing the use of highly polluting coal and fossil fuels by green and renewable sources of energy to save planet Earth from an impending climate change catastrophe for mankind and future generations.

Whatever be the outcome of COP25, the clamour of the young and the people urging governments across the world to drastically cut down carbon emissions will remain undeterred and alive until concrete actions are urgently taken by them to save planet Earth. Let governments across the world be warned. Their future will depend on their judicious policy choices and urgent actions to tackle and defuse the threats of climate change on our homeland planet Earth, which is by far the biggest emergency faced by mankind.


* Published in print edition on 13 December 2019

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