We must not be blind about climate change


The calamitous effe­cts of climate change have been dra­wing the attention of the world in general since 2017 but more so over the past year and a half. Discussions on this issue are taking place in different platforms. There have been differences of opinion among the climatologists, economists and those involved with the socio-cultural matrix. Different opinions are being expressed as to how this issue can, or needs to be tackled. Questions are also being raised as to how to generate the required funding. However there is convergence of opinion with regard to the effect that climate change is turning upside down the lives of the world’s poorer sections.

This aspect gained particular attention after the powerful cyclone Idai destroyed most of the city of Beira, Mozambique ripping the foundations of bridges, bursting riverbanks and sweeping away homes. Nearly a month later life is still a long way from normal. Known for its busy port and views of the Indian Ocean, this 19th-century city used to be the fourth largest in that country. Today, Beira exists on the map but has been "90% wiped out" because of the effects of global warming. This is the view of the citizens who live in that section of the world. The electronic media including the CNN has reported that hundreds of square miles have been covered by water, flooding an area so vast it can be seen from space.

Locals have also stated that till now they do not have exact figures of how many have perished because of the cyclone. Apparently they will know the totality of devastation only when the water has receded completely. Cyclone Idai is only the latest extreme weather event to blight the vulnerable region, affecting more than half a million people and filling humanitarian camps with tens of thousands. The UN's Economic Commission for Africa has estimated that Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, may have lost $1 billion of infrastructure in this cyclone.

It is now generally agreed by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) that the 2015-16 El Niño weather cycle, believed to be the strongest in 50 years has severely affected Southern Africa's food security. FAO believes that unseasonable dry weather conditions in large swathes of Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Madagascar have led to nearly 32 million people being unable to afford or resources to acquire food in 2016. It may also be noted here that we have also seen in 2018 drought, population growth and effects of climate change nearly made Cape Town the first city in the world to run out of water.

Several sessions organized through the efforts of the United Nations have pointed out how the multi-faceted effects of climate change is promoting inequality, particularly in the developing world. Participants, in such meetings, have drawn attention to the possibility of climate change gradually becoming a problem that will affect our future generations through its devastating effects. In this context, the United Nations estimates that 4.2 billion people have been hit by weather-related disasters in the last two decades, with low-income countries suffering the biggest losses. Geo-physical research has also revealed that most of the world's poorest who live in equatorial regions (which already have high average temperatures) suffer the impact of even a tiny rise in temperature.

Meanwhile, economists have drawn attention to the fact that the biggest culprits in this ball game are the world's richest nations who are the largest emission producers -- by burning fossil fuels and modern farming practices that produce climate change causing emissions.

Using climate model projections, geo-physicists have found out that if global average surface temperatures reached the 1.5 or 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) limit -- set by the Paris Agreement -- countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh or the Democratic Republic of the Congo would feel the changes brought on by global warming more keenly than higher latitude countries like the United Kingdom or Sweden.

Some analysts from the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) at the School of Geography and Environment in Oxford University have however also pointed out that this does not mean that developed countries are immune to climate change effects. In this context they have referred to the terrible effects of Hurricane Harvey, (a storm whose intensity was linked to climate change) that caused terrible flooding in the summer of 2017 around Houston, USA, and surrounding counties. Apparently, 80 people died because of this sudden occurrence and relevant authorities in that area had to evacuate more than 120,000 people. 

Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton Professor of Geo Science and International Affairs while commenting on the efforts undertaken has correctly pointed out that better preparation about potential outfall of climate change will nevertheless be possible due to "wealthy countries like the United States being able to prepare and cope with problems like climate change better than poorer countries." As compared to this, one can only imagine how rising sea water level due to climate change will affect the vulnerable southern coastal districts of Bangladesh and how the people will suffer due to paucity of funds. Ricardo Safra de Campos of the British University of Exeter has in this regard drawn attention to the fact that monsoon rains and flooding in 2017 led to the death of 1,200 persons and suffering among 41 million people in Bangladesh. In addition, there was destruction of infrastructure and of at least 950,000 houses in the rural affected areas.

Relevant authorities of the Bangladesh government, it may be mentioned, despite paucity of funds has taken the initiative to build not only anti-cyclone shelters, coastal embankments, flood control stations, a large water retention basin, the restoration of a storm drainage system and canals but also investing in cyclone and flood warning prediction systems. These efforts have been undertaken at the same time as the government having to find scarce funds for providing shelter on humanitarian grounds to nearly one million Rohingya refugees fleeing from atrocities and crimes committed on them in the Rakhine State of Myanmar by the Myanmar law enforcement personnel and Buddhist militants.

 As events in Mozambique, Bangladesh and the Philippines have shown, climate change is a problem of the present. Not just the future.

It is such a scenario that has persuaded Bangladesh to demand in the United Nations to take necessary steps for materializing the pledges for mobilizing 100 Billion USD annually by 2020 consistent with the Paris Agreement. We have also reiterated the need for the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund to mitigate adverse effects of climate change. This approach has been mentioned during the recent intervention made by M. Shahriar Alam our State Minister for Foreign Affairs during his participation in the High Level Meeting on Climate and Sustainability Development for All held in the UN Headquarters in New York towards the end of March. 

Saleemul Huq has correctly observed that we are now living “in a post-human-induced-climate change world and things will only get worse unless the world steps up its efforts to keep the global temperature below 1.5 Degrees”.

We need to formulate a wider Community Based Adaptation Action Plan with least common denominators pertaining to capacity building that will be acceptable to countries and vulnerable communities that are facing the turmoil of climate change. We can then present it in the special Climate Summit that is being convened by the United Nations in September this year in New York. 

Despite some world leaders refusing to accept that climate change is taking place through global warming, time has now arrived for all of us to accept the responsibility of our future and try to create a better tomorrow for our next generation.

We need to in this regard take lessons from the recent discovery of Antarctica’s lost forests that have emerged across exposed rocks in the middle of Antarctica- the white continent. These mummified twigs of shrubs grew on the continent some three to five million years ago before climate change took the toll during the time period in the epoch geologists call the Pliocene, 2.6-5.3 million years ago. 

They serve as a warning to the world about where climate change could take us if carbon emissions go unchecked.


 Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance