Whether we accept it or not, climate change is here and it is impacting our lives in ways unforeseen. No matter the whimpering of nay-sayers, global warming is causing long-lasting climate changes and countries around the world are experiencing first-hand the drastic effects of these alterations to our climate system.
Emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades. Without immediate action, the continuous rise in greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, which are now over 50 percent higher than their 1990 level, are projected to increase world’s average surface temperature by over 3°C this century.
The irreversible consequences of this climate change include melting ice-caps and glaciers, rising sea levels and erratic weather patterns that lead to floods and droughts with increasing severity and frequency. It is a global challenge that does not respect national borders; greenhouse gas emissions anywhere affect people everywhere. Air pollution from deliberate burning of forests in Indonesia, affects lives of people there, as well as in neighboring Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand; dumping industrial waste into rivers and waterways in one place, impacts lives of people living downstream.
Climate change is an issue the solution for which requires an integrated approach with cooperation and collaboration at the local, regional and international level. Taking urgent action to address climate change and its impacts is Goal-13 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted in September 2015.
A primary target for Goal-13 is strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries, especially the most vulnerable least developed countries, small-island states and landlocked nations.
The goal also targets integrating climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning, as well as improving education, raising awareness and building human and institutional capacity, on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.
Acknowledging that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change, SDG-13 urges the implantation of the commitment undertaken by developed country states to jointly mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries and help mitigate climate-related disasters.
In addition, the goal calls for promoting mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries and small-island developing States, including focusing on women, youth and local and marginalized communities.
Affordable, scalable solutions are now available to enable countries to leapfrog to cleaner, more resilient economies. The pace of change is quickening as more people are turning to renewable energy and a range of other measures that will reduce emissions and increase adaptation efforts. It is still possible, with the political will and a wide array of technological measures, to limit the increase in global mean temperature to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This requires urgent collective action.
The belated realization of the urgent need for joint action is probably what resulted in the world coming together at the recent COP21 Climate Talks in Paris to successfully adopt a global collective action plan on climate change. Unless we are prepared to act now, these climatic changes could disrupt national economies and affect lives, especially the poor and the vulnerable who will be impacted the most. It will cost people, communities and countries on every continent, today and even more tomorrow.
From studies conducted on behalf of the UNFCCC we know that from 1880 to 2012, average global temperatures increased by 0.85°C. To put this into perspective:
For each 1°C of temperature increase, grain yields decline by about 5 percent. Maize, wheat and other major crops have experienced significant yield reductions at the global level of 40 million tonnes per year between 1981 and 2002 due to a warmer climate.
Given current concentrations and on-going emissions of greenhouse gases, it is likely that by the end of this century, the increase in global temperature will exceed 1.5°C compared to 1850 to 1900 for all but one scenario. The world’s oceans will warm and ice melt will continue.
With ocean warming, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished and sea level has risen. The Arctic’s sea ice extent has shrunk in every successive decade since 1979, with 1.07 million km² of ice loss every decade.
From 1901 to 2010, the global average sea level rose by 19 cm as oceans expanded due to warming and ice melted. Average sea level rise is predicted as 24 – 30cm by 2065 and 40-63cm by 2100.
The annual average losses from just earthquakes, tsunamis, tropical cyclones and flooding are estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars. This requires an investment of US$6 billion annually in disaster risk management alone.
Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions are stopped today.
Following the adoption of the new Paris Agreement on climate change, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The Paris Agreement is a monumental triumph for people and our planet. It sets the stage for progress in ending poverty, strengthening peace and ensuring a life of dignity and opportunity for all.” The UN chief added, “In the face of an unprecedented challenge, you have demonstrated unprecedented leadership. You have worked collaboratively to achieve something that no one nation could achieve alone.”
In his address to civil society following the successful conclusion of the COP21 the UN Secretary-General said: “We would not have achieved this victory without the leadership and vision of civil society. From young activists to artists, faith leaders to business leaders, mayors to mothers, all of society has come together under one banner and brought forth this moment of hope.
“I wish to express a special thanks to the young people in every corner of the globe who have raised their voices, mobilized on social media, marched in the streets, and demanded change from their governments. I encourage you to continue your impassioned leadership. Make the climate a priority in your choices as a consumer, investor and citizen and urge others to do the same. Reconnect with nature. Reach out and bring others on board. And keep Governments accountable for their Paris pledges. Our planet needs you now more than ever. With your help, we can create a safer, more peaceful and livable world for all.”