Warming will make climate events more extreme | Sunday Observer

Warming will make climate events more extreme

Prof. Mohan Munasinghe

“Climate change is going to increase inequality much more in the world,” warns Mohan Munasinghe, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2007.

The regions of the world that are dry will become drier and the regions that are wet will become more humid, he says.

Sri Lanka’s physicist, engineer and economist, Mohan Munasinghe was vice chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who shared the Nobel Prize in 2007 with Al Gore. A sustainable development expert, Munasinghe is critical that the Paris Agreement against warming is not being implemented. This was stated in his speech at the IV Forum of the Water Economy, held in Barcelona.

How will climate change affect water availability?

Studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicate that regions of the world that are dry will become drier and regions that are wet will become more humid. Warming will make climate events more extreme. There will be more deserts but also more floods.

Which areas are most exposed to these changes?

Again, the more arid areas, such as the Sahelian regions of Africa and other desert areas, will become more vulnerable because the desert areas will expand. Floods are also expected in mountainous areas where the damage that may occur will be heightened. Thus, in dry areas desertification will increase and in mountainous areas with steep slopes the increase of runoff will have devastating effects. Another effect is that river deltas will suffer floods because many of the human settlements are concentrated in these low lying areas.

The IPCC prepares a report on extreme events. What can you say in advance?

I know the draft, but I prefer not to say anything – it is in line with what I tell you.

What shortcomings would be highlighted in the availability of water in developing countries?

There are several problems, but the main one has to do with poverty, which means that many people who already do not have access to water are poorly fed and have few resources. They live on marginal, non-productive lands. Unproductive rural areas will produce even less. And, in urban areas, poor people living in heavily polluted areas like slums will see these problems accentuated. The availability of water will be lower, and therefore, the cost of water production will rise. But, we do not have the resources to invest in water service. Water companies already have deficits and there is a lack of funding to produce clean water and provide sanitation.

The solution is to put a price on water?

There is no single solution. Price and the market are tools, but we should not abuse that solution. Sustainable water pricing criteria need to be reconciled. The economic rule suggests higher prices to reflect the scarcity cost of new water sources. The environmental rule also tends to raise prices, to cover pollution, external costs, sanitation, etc. The social rule argues for lower prices to provide services to the poor. Therefore, sustainable pricing structures usually include a subsidized low income block to meet basic water needs, followed by rising price blocks for higher income users who consume more water. We will also have to make progress in technology to increase water availability. But in general terms, we must practice better water management, achieve sustainable production and consumption, use less water, not promote products that consume much water ... We have to do many things: some are economic and some are not economic.

Have economic solutions been given too much priority?

It depends on the countries. Since 1992, I have been proposing better policies within a framework called sustainable water resource management and policy (SWAMP). There are various solutions, but the problem is that their application by the leaders make it very weak.

What is worse: drought or floods?

Both things are bad. If you are in the desert the drought is bad and if you live in the Himalayas and there is a warming that aggravates melting, disastrous and fatal floods can occur for many people downstream. In Chile recently, we have had droughts and floods at the same time, in different parts of the same country.

What can urban planners do to solve the water shortage?

The urbanization process cannot be stopped, but it could be managed better. I am now working with many cities and organizations. The answer is yes, but we need green and sustainable urban planning, that can be a solution.

What have they done?

Green architects have taken it into account, but others have not. The problem of mega cities, which have 10, 15 or 20 million people, is that their ecological footprint is very intense because there are many people living in a small space. And, we are not talking only of abstracting water from the rivers, but of tapping underground reserves, as well.

In many cities the water supply has been made with the rivers for years - rivers have accompanied the growth of most cities; But the growth of this urbanization is intensifying the exploitation of subsurface reserves, and if this is not done correctly, it could cause many disasters. Problems of water availability are not only caused by climate change. The majority of water problems is caused by humans. In the future, the problem of climate change will be more important, but today, the problem is caused by ourselves.

Are you in favour of the transfers or do you prefer another solution?

I think that sharing water is always a better solution than letting each city provide its own water. The key is to determine how to share. Beyond the laws , water is also a matter of ethics. Water is a human need. Everyone should have the right to a basic amount of water. The ethic of sharing is to say that each person has a minimum right to water. Public decisions should be integrated taking into account a comprehensive global vision and a vision at the local level, taking into account the closest population.

Donald Trump wants to repeal Obama’s measures against climate change. What do you think?

Each country has a national interest, but it also lives in a global community and there is a collective interest. The Climate Change Convention, signed in 1992, clearly states that there is a collective responsibility and that there is also a differentiation in the burden that each country must bear because there are countries that are rich, but also causing more pain to poorer and weaker countries, who are the main victims of climate change. Thus, not all countries can and should contribute equally to the solution. What is clear is that climate change is going to increase inequality much more in the world. The rich will become richer and the poor will become poorer.

Are you afraid that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change?

President Trump has publicly declared he will do so, but we cannot blame Trump for all our failures. Look at the history. Who has done anything? The Paris Agreement is not, in my opinion, an example of success, but an example of the weakness of world leaders because they proudly declared that the goal is to limit the temperature rise of the planet to two degrees C from pre-industrial times, took photos and returned home to their countries saying they have saved the world. But, the reality is that emissions continue to rise and we are heading towards an increase in temperatures of three degrees C or more. The pledges made so far suggest that the Paris Agreement is not being complied with. We have doubts about Trump’s intentions, but there are other countries that said they would comply and maybe never will.

Can China lead the global energy transition after the United States disengagement? Should we trust China?

“Yes, we should trust China. The United States has taken a wrong turn, and if China does not do well, we do not have much hope to solve the problem. On the other hand, China’s policy is long-term. It does not change when there is a change of leadership. And, if you look at all the recent Chinese Communist Party Congresses, you see that they understand that solving the problem of climate change is very good, both, for humanity and for China.

But they do not plan to reduce gas emissions until about 2030?

One must understand the shared responsibility of each country and consider its emissions per capita. The United States emits 3 or 4 four times more greenhouse gases per capita than China. The Chinese should do their part, but the other richer countries should make a reduction of emissions even faster. The use of energy and emissions should be reduced. If you want to be competitive in a resource scarce world, you must reduce your emissions and be more efficient, and that the Chinese know.

Any more proposals?

That the citizen should be the first to become aware and develop habits of sustainability, to pressure politicians to make the right decisions.

(Source: “LA VANGUARDIA” in Spain)

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