Scientists might be forced to listen to self-serving politicians but climate change shall not. A recent example of scientific equivocation in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) group III report (dealing with climate change mitigation) with respect to the peaking of global emissions for a 1.5oC rise which necessitated a subsequent clarification that “peaking should have happened in 2020” and that there is no safe window called 2025 is a case in point.
We are already almost halfway through the second year of the 2020s with no sign of urgent climate change action visible anywhere. Emergency steps needed during the COVID-19 pandemic and later the demands of geopolitics still promoting ‘wars’ for phoney and meaningless human supremacies are the alibis. It is now more than certain that human kids recently born or taking birth now are doomed to live in a 2oC warmer world by the 2050s, if not earlier. But what would that ‘world’ be like?
No one knows for sure, for all current predictions are based on computer-run climate ‘models’ reflecting science’s current state of ‘climate’ knowledge or lack of it. But whatever it predicts is scary, to say the least.
Lest anyone remain in a fool’s paradise, a 2oC world is the most ‘hopeful’ world and things could be far worse in scenarios associated with ‘business as usual’ economic growth policies and practices.
First a caveat!
What may seem small in our common human perception might actually be huge in climate terms. A close example is the Richter scale for measuring the intensity of earthquakes where the devastating power of a trembler of 6 Richter is far more than say one at 5 Richter, otherwise a ‘minor’ numerical difference in common human understanding.
Similar is with global warming of 1.5oC and 2oC and why the Paris climate agreement in 2015 settled on the former as a desirable and doable goal. As an example, just half a degree of global temperature rise from 1.5oC to 2oC shall entail more than a doubling (at 36%) of global landmass exposed to extreme rainfalls against 17% exposure at 1.5oC rise.
To appreciate it somewhat more let us see how the earth, in particular, our region (South Asia) is doing at 1.17oC which is the present-day global temperature rise compared to that in 1850.
According to PreventionWeb, the global knowledge-sharing platform for disaster risk reduction and resilience, under UNDRR (United Nations Office for Disaster and Risk Reduction), the year 2022 can be safely (sic) called a ‘spring-less’ year when summer fast-forwarded its march to the month of March and when heatwave predictions by meteorological departments in the region started to make rounds.
Places in the south and central Asia started experiencing unheard-of ambient temperatures in late March and early April resembling those of the months of May and June. “If 40oC plus temperatures are already here in late March then what would May and June bring” many began to wonder? Even the mid-latitude regions of central Asia reported ‘uncomfortable’ temperatures of 30oC plus in late March and early April of 2022.
According to studies, the 2oC world would be dominated by debilitating heatwaves and significantly altered (read floods and droughts) precipitation patterns. Sea level rise would start to impact coastal habitations; forest fires would be unrelenting and melting glaciers and frying hillsides shall increase instances of drying streams and devastating landslides.
This would translate into severe impacts on human living conditions, health, industrial productivity, agricultural practices, water security, economies, and widening inequalities globally, regionally, and nationally. How critical ecosystems like oceans, forests, pastures, soils, rivers, and other terrestrial wetlands and nonhuman biodiversity would fare is anybody’s guess.
A kid born today would in 2050 be in her/his late twenties, an age when the sky is the limit for human aspirations and contributions made to the workforce. But no matter which economic strata she/he comes from or where she/he lives as an individual, the biggest concern in a 2oC environment shall be air conditioning (of living and workplace) and access to adequate and safe water to ward off energy-sapping effects of heat waves; access to healthy and enough foods in the face of increasing instances of crop failures; difficulty in movement due to frequent urban flooding and power failures from infrastructure meltdown.
If this was not enough many of them would be climate refugees from burning forests, inundating coastlines, sliding mountainside villages, and flood-prone hinterlands adding to cutthroat competition for livelihood opportunities, living space requirements, and access to health services. Results can only be greater and increasing social inequalities, strife, and faltering national economies.
Not a pretty picture to be young and aspirational in 2050. But could it be any different? Yes. Only and only if parents of today read the writing on the wall and compel their governments to listen to the science and to the scientists.
Manoj Misra is a former IFS officer and convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan. He tweets at @Yamunajiye
This article was first published by The Dialogue here