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Monday, September 16, 2019

Will global pact on climate change deliver?

by Linda S. Heard

Finally, there exists a broad international consensus that global warming is no myth. The Paris Climate Change Conference was hailed as a milestone in halting the tide and was proof that the international community can speak with one voice on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to secure coming generations. But now that the fanfare is over, the question remains on whether the worst offenders – the US, Canada, Britain, China, Mexico and Indonesia - will stick to their pledges says Linda S. Heard.

The impact of climate change isn’t just about the diminishing habitats of polar bears caused by melting glaciers and early thawing ice-caps. As if the plight of those poor starving creatures marooned on shards of ice isn’t bad enough, sea levels are rising and sea waters warming at an accelerated rate endangering several countries and islands that could either witness a land mass shrinkage, or, in the worst case scenario, could disappear from the map. Among those threatened are the Solomon Islands, the Maldives, Cap Verde, Palau, Fiji, The Seychelles, Micronesia and Kiribati.

The US Center for Atmospheric Research predicts that the Arctic could be ice-free by 2040. Countries most at risk from flooding include some of the planet’s poorest - Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Benin, Rwanda, parts of China, India and Egypt. And if predictions are accurate, many others will be vulnerable to drought, famine, hurricanes and catastrophic storms.

Egypt’s second most populated city Alexandria on the north coast features on the World Bank’s list most at risk of being flooded by 2050 along with Naples, Sapporo, Barranquilla and Santo Domingo. Alexandria’s beaches would be under water. Worse, the Nile Delta would no longer boast fertile soil capable of supplying 50 per cent of the country’s agricultural requirements as it will be infiltrated by seawater.

The South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is already experiencing saline intrusion of soil and a diminished supply of unpolluted drinking water prompting many of its residents to seek asylum elsewhere. There is little doubt that if carbon emissions remain unchecked, the refugee crisis Europe complains of today will expand to worldwide proportions.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuels are the greatest driver of global warming followed by Nitrous Oxide and Fluorinated gases and global average temperatures have increased by more than 1.5 per cent since the early 19th century.

Tragically, the countries which are the least responsible for the effects of climate change are the ones that will pay the greatest price if the ambitious promises made by world leaders in Paris aren’t fulfilled.

US President Barack Obama should be congratulated for his commitment to the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by the end of this century, which, in theory, should maintain average global temperatures below 2 degrees centigrade, thus minimizing global warming’s extreme adverse effects. Some experts maintain that’s not sufficient and are pushing for 1.5 per cent.

Like most Democrats and a majority of Republicans, he is convinced that the science is accurate but the same cannot be said of the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. He believes global warming is a hoax “created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive” and has Tweeted “Ice story rolls from Texas to Tennessee. I’m in Los Angeles and it is freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!”

The largest greenhouse gas emitter China that neglected to ratify the Kyoto Protocol is now leading the pack following assessments by 500 scientists portending food insufficiency, choking smog in major cities, the proliferation of diseases and pests and coastal erosion. However, with all the will in the world China is faced with the challenge of balancing its economic growth, currently in the doldrums, with technology costs to achieve large scale reductions.

China plans to focus on renewable energy and on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology – the separation of carbon dioxide from glue gas emitted by coal-fired power plants, which is compressed and transported to underground hydrocarbon reservoirs. That is yet to be tested and is expensive. Beijing’s first priority will be to provide electricity to its population of over 1.4 billion and to fuel industry.

India, the planet’s fourth largest polluter, has unveiled a plan to reduce carbon emissions with the main focus on solar and wind power - and has committed to producing 40 percent of its electricity needs using non-fossil fuels by 2030. However, its Minister for Energy admits his country cannot afford to do it alone, adding that the eradication of poverty remains its first priority. India is asking for assistance from developing nations because the cost involved with implementing its pledges are estimated in the region of US$ 2.5 trillion.

The UK is formulating a plan to mitigate climate change set to be released at the end of this year; its mainstays are a switch from goal to gas, new nuclear plants, greener heating systems and greater controls on the industrial center and investment in hybrid or electric cars. EU member countries have agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent prior to 2030, but states with less than healthy economies such as Portugal and Poland argue they should be treated as special circumstances.

Like the population of Beijing, the residents of Mexico City used to breathe in air equivalent to smoking two packets of cigarettes daily. Since the capital has cleaned up its act by banning older gas-guzzling cars from its streets and mandating one day a week “car free” angering drivers. Over the past three years its steps have paid off. Mexico has succeeded in cutting emissions by 45 per cent by reducing its reliance on oil and gas.

Now that the euphoria over the Paris conference has died down, it’s hoped that the world’s wealthiest countries concerned with balancing their books and battling terrorist threats will not only understand there will be no gain without financial pain but will also be generous with assisting developing nations to do their part. If we and those who come after us continue with a selfish ‘live now, pay later’ philosophy great swathes of our one world will become uninhabitable prompting major social unrest and population transfers. For Bangladesh, where almost a million have been lost due to freak weather and natural disasters attributed to global warming, it’s a case of ‘do or die’.

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