UN: 10 years left before climate change decimates planet Earth
A landmark climate change report released by UN on Monday has warned that the world is on the brink of disaster and could face cataclysmic consequences if steps aren't taken immediately to drastically cut carbon emissions. In the absence of 'unprecedented' changes in the next 10 years, the world of 2040 would face destruction on a scale hitherto unseen. Here are the terrifying details.
The report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the first one to be commissioned under the 2015 Paris Agreement which sought to combat climate change by limiting global rise in temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, the report notes that disastrous consequences await the Earth by 2040, if global temperature rise cannot be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
To limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and prevent catastrophe, the world economy would have to be transformed at a speed and scale that has "no documented historic precedent". Notably, by 2030, global greenhouse gas emissions have to be cut by a whopping 45% from 2010 levels. By 2050, greenhouse gas emissions would have to be reduced by 100%.
To enable emissions cuts and limit the global temperature rise, the report notes that coal would have to give way to renewable energy. Use of coal as a source of electricity would have to be reduced from around 40% today to 1-7% by 2050, while use of renewable energy in the electricity mix has to increase from around 20% today to 67% by 2050.
The report noted that if the world failed to meet the aforementioned requirements within stipulated deadlines, climate change could well become beyond human control. It painted a dreary vision of the world in 2040, which would be plagued by worsening food shortages, spiralling wildfires, extreme heat and extreme weather events, climate change-induced exoduses, and extinction of coral-reefs. Such damages could exceed $54 trillion.
The report further warned that if global temperature rise exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius, over 50 million people in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the US would be exposed to the effects of increased coastal flooding by 2040. If temperature rise exceeds 2 degrees Celsius, much of the world would become uninhabitable, triggering mass exoduses and rendering national borders irrelevant.
Yet, the report wasn't all doom-and-gloom, and offered humanity a sliver of hope. The authors noted that the changes required in the world economy and society are not technically impossible - energy efficiency, electrifying transport, reforesting entire regions, rapid deployment of renewable energy, and pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere using carbon capture technology could stymie the global temperature rise in time.
That said, what seems to be nigh impossible as of now is generating the political will around the world and sparking collective action required to bring about such sweeping changes. With US President Trump still believing climate change to be a hoax, and the US threatening to pull out of the Paris Agreement, the world's greatest superpower is setting a poor example for others.
While the US, the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China, is poised to exit the Paris Agreement, Brazil, the world's seventh-largest greenhouse gas emitter, is poised to elect a new president who might also pull out of the Paris Agreement. Other nations too, especially developing nations, might be unwilling to reduce emissions as it would mean prioritizing global needs over national economic growth.
Of course, national interests apart, the extremely rich and powerful fossil fuel lobby is another major obstacle to collective action against climate change. Despite the dire predictions made by the IPCC report, the World Coal Association has already been quick to dismiss its conclusions that stopping global warming would require an end to the usage of coal. More similar arguments can be expected.
Indeed, the fight ahead of us is humanity's biggest till date, as climate change not only poses an existential threat to humanity, but to much of organic life on the planet. Difficult though it might sound, the IPCC has already created a roadmap for immediate and future action - we know what we have to do, we just have to do it.
It should be noted here that no voluntary action on part of consumers such as reducing use of plastics will bring any lasting change. The fight against climate change requires an overhaul to the entire global system, and that change can only come through coordinated political action. That said, current trends in global politics seem to indicate that we're headed the other way.
Through much of human history, existential threats have rarely been part of the political discourse, mostly because humanity faced no severe existential threats in pre-nuclear times. Yet, now that we are faced with existential threats, world leaders are retreating behind national borders and nationalistic rhetoric, leading to a fragmentation of interests across the world, rather than generating global consensus on combating existential threats.
This is particularly worrying, especially in the context of climate change which is a problem of planetary proportions and currently the greatest threat to humanity, barring an all-out thermonuclear war. Hence, if we are to leave a better (read: inhabitable) world for future generations, it's high time that we remove our blinders and start thinking of existential risk prevention as a global priority.