A dire warning | Sunday Observer

A dire warning

Time travel may still be impossible, but time travels fast. The year 2030 looks far away, but is just 12 years away. We will be there in next to no time. That year happens to be the cut off year for taking drastic action to save the planet, according to the latest 700-page Climate Change Report issued by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), just last week.

The 195-nation climate science body worked overtime to finalize the report outlining stark options -- all requiring a global makeover of unprecedented scale -- for avoiding climate chaos. The report was commissioned by the United Nations to see what would happen if global average temperatures rose by 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and what it would take to cap warming at that level.

The IPCC was tasked with recommending the best course of action for saving the planet by the framers of the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, which calls for halting the rise in temperatures to “well below” 2C -- and 1.5 C if possible. Do not think that a 0.5 C difference is trivial - marine fisheries would face double the declines with 2°C of warming compared to 1.5°C. Maize harvests would decrease by more than double. Insects, including vital pollinators, would see their ranges decline threefold. Sea levels would rise by another two inches, putting an extra 10 million people at risk of coastal flooding (Source: World Resources Institute).

“Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C,” warns the UN Report. Coincidentally, a separate 500-page report commissioned by the US Government and released almost simultaneously drew much the same conclusions, apart from an even more dire prediction – global temperatures will rise by 4 Degrees Celsius by 2100 if Climate Change is unchecked.

The key takeaway of the Report is that we may have as little as 12 years to act on Climate Change — to slash global emissions 45 percent — to reach the targets envisaged by the UN Panel. At current rates of Greenhouse Gas emissions, Earth will zoom past the 1.5 C signpost around 2040, and as early as 2030.

The overarching conclusion of the report is that every fraction of a degree of warming matters. Letting temperatures rise will exact a huge toll on lives, natural systems, and the global economy. Fighting to keep warming in check — which will include radically and rapidly reducing coal and fossil fuel consumption, among other things — will save our lives, flora and fauna, the food supply, and our homes.

Let’s face it – Climate Change is real. We have been burning fossil fuel for a couple of centuries now and there is no immediate sign of slowing down. When burned, these fuels emit carbon dioxide, which traps heat in the atmosphere. The world has heated up by 1°C on average compared to pre-industrial times. We are already seeing its effects in the form of the fastest decline in Arctic Ice in 1,500 years, more than eight inches of sea level rise since 1880, and extreme weather patterns all over the world, including here in Sri Lanka.

What can be done to stem the tide towards destruction? The first answer is global cooperation. This is exactly what the Paris Climate Accord seeks to achieve. Unfortunately, a few countries including the United States have pulled out of the Accord unilaterally. These countries also happen to be heavy users of fossil fuels, so there are doubts as to whether the world will be able to achieve the ambitious targets set by the Accord in the backdrop of their non-compliance.

Some other answers and alternatives are fairly obvious - conventional methods like energy efficiency measures, replacing fossil fuel-fired generators with renewables, renewable fuels, switching to electric vehicles and reducing personal energy usage. The Sri Lankan Government has a plan to distribute one million LED bulbs among consumers, which will lead to a serious saving of fossil fuel in the long run. More needs to be done as nearly four million people in Sri Lanka still use incandescent bulbs which consume 70 percent more electricity than LED bulbs.

The Government has also started a Battle for Solar Energy (Surya Bala Sangramaya) which envisages more high electricity users converting to solar energy. Many more solar and wind farms have also been planned.

The Sri Lankan Government has also decreed that no new fossil fuel powered vehicles will be registered after 2040, in line with many other countries such as, India, China and UK. However, more concessions should be granted for the import and use of electric cars for this to happen smoothly.

It is also possible to take individual actions, however minor they seem to be on paper, to reduce our energy usage and wastage. You can turn that fan and light off in the empty room, for starters. Why not walk over to the junction to buy your newspaper and groceries instead of taking the car? If you have to go on a short errand, why not take the bus? Why not iron all the week’s clothes in one go, instead of ironing every morning? These are all very simple steps that do not literally cost the Earth.

If everyone takes these measures in our country of 21 million (and yes, globally), one can just imagine the energy savings.

But, these will only prevent carbon Dioxide emissions from now onwards. What about reducing the amount of Carbon Dioxide already present in the atmosphere? This is where Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) comes in. CDR encompasses a suite of different methods including planting more forests, which take in and store carbon dioxide as they grow, Bioenergy coupled to carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) and Direct Air Capture (DAC) of Carbon Dioxide.

A handful of companies are working on these technologies, which are still in early stages. There are only a handful of DAC plants, and more of them will be needed since more than 1,000 gigatons of Carbon Dioxide will have to be removed from the atmosphere by 2100.

Most of these technologies are costly, but the UN Panel did estimate the global economic damage that would be caused by Global Warming and Climate Change if we do nothing at all until 2030 - US$ 54 trillion if the world warms by 1.5°C by 2100 or US$ 69 trillion if temperatures reach 2°C. These are conservative estimates, so the damage could be more. This should be a great incentive for Governments around the world to get their act together – literally – in order to save Planet Earth from certain disaster.