The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated, in 2018, that we only have a decade to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. The Paris Climate Agreement determined that countries would slash emissions to a certain level to prevent rise of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius in earth’s temperature. So far, countries have not lived up to their commitments or promises. The fact is that climate change, if left unchecked, will change our world in ways we cannot even comprehend.
This is a change that we are already seeing all around us. Just in the last decade, the rise in extreme weather conditions, climate disasters, cyclones, glacier/snow melt, and flooding has been unprecedented. These conditions will keep worsening the more our climate changes. The IPCC has declared that the global carbon emissions have to be reduced by 45% by the year 2030, only then will we have a shot at preventing earth’s temperature from rising more than the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold. This means that the carbon dioxide emissions need to start dropping well in advance of the year 2030. Countries have to lower their carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050 and this will never get done if the process isn’t started immediately. "We need to get the world on a path to net zero CO2 emissions by mid-century…That's a huge transformation, so that if we don't make a good start on it during the 2020s, we won't be able to get there at a reasonable cost," said climate researcher Drew Shindell.
Everyone has heard about the doomsday prophecies of climate change: glaciers will melt, the planet will heat up, there will be irreparable damage to ecosystems, heat waves and famines will become increasingly severe, cities/communities will be flooded, sea levels will rise, and polar ice sheets will melt resulting in even more greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere. The world, however, will still exist. If we can’t keep the temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius, the world will survive but life, as we know, will end. The first to experience these impacts will be the vulnerable mountain and island communities. Economic deprivation and income gaps will be highlighted and the poor and the vulnerable will be devastated by the effects. The irony is that the people and communities who are the least to blame for these conditions will bear the brunt of the consequences. Another thing we must keep in mind is that when it comes to a deadline, we have already missed it. The mitigation process should have started years ago. At this point, stopping climate change is going to be nearly impossible. We are already dealing with its effects, however, things are expected to get much worse and those are the changes that we can prevent. In order to do so, we will need to focus on two things: cutting emissions and, in the long term, removing already existing carbon from the atmosphere. We are generally of the opinion that we can delay cutting emissions and deal with the carbon problem at a later date, but we are crossing more and more tipping points every year that we delay. In the future, undoing those negative effects will become more expensive and difficult.
Climate change is already responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in various indirect ways. Diseases like dengue and malaria thrive in warm temperatures and cause many deaths every year. Food production will be damaged, water supplies will dry up, soil in coastal areas will become more saline as sea water will start contaminating groundwater, and multiple climate hotspots will be formed leading to extensive out migration and climate refugees. Dr. Adil Najam highlighted in a recent webinar on climate change that if climate change will exacerbate any other problems the world might have. For instance, he maintained, if you have bad governance and infrastructure it will get worse, as recently seen in the Sindh floods. Our entire focus cannot be on mitigation. For developing countries and specifically South Asia, it is also an adaptation problem and dealing with the already prevailing impacts. For us, climate impacts are here now. It’s not a problem that we can address at a future time, it is a current issue. We must not wait for climate disasters to happen and then deal with the fallout from that. We need to make our development sturdy and resilient. Climate change impacts will be felt the most by the poor and that is not because they will be targeted specifically, it’s because bad development and infrastructure makes them more vulnerable.
What has been done cannot be undone and the change coming is inescapable. These changes will include our ecosystems, our economies, the international system and even how societies operate. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is an awareness that is growing within people that we are just one of the many species that inhabit the earth. Our relationship with this planet and nature needs to be one of respect and cooperation. We have a responsibility to our future generations to protect the planet that we were given. We are already seeing a shift towards renewable energy, reductions of toxins and plastic in our products, a focus on recycling and giving back to the environment. We may have 10 years to save the world but we have to start now.