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The climate clock

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a new report to warn the world on the changing climate. The report outlines facts alarming enough to make the world realise that this is a do-or-die situation for all.

The IPCC has prepared this special report on global warming of 1.5C (1.5 degrees Celsius) in response to COP21, which was held in Paris in 2015. The purpose to commission this report was to get insights into the impacts that 1.5C warming would have, as compared to further global warming. The IPCC authors have strived to highlight the benefits of limiting human-induced global warming to 1.5C, as pledged under the Paris climate agreement which underscored the need for 196 signatory nations to reduce their emissions to limit warming well below 2C and pursue efforts to limit it further to 1.5C.

Human-led activities have already warmed the planet to 1C since the preindustrial revolution. As a result, climate change has taken a toll on the planet in the form of recurring floods, prolonged droughts and frequent heatwaves. The report cautions that this warming is projected to rise above 1.5C between 2030 and 2052, keeping in view the current rate of emissions which will hit the world harder in terms of its impacts. However, the major concern put forth in the report is global warming of up to 2C and beyond, which could expose the world to multiple and overlapping hazards.

Perhaps a half degree temperature surge may not sound significant to a layperson, but the IPCC experts clearly state in the report that this marginal increase in warming will increase the vulnerability – to extreme weather events – of tens of millions more people around the globe.

The difference can be illustrated by the impacts on coral reefs which are going to face a decline in their population by 70-90 percent at 1.5C while they can get almost extinct by up to 99 percent at 2C warming. Also, the climate-related risk to crops, species loss, sea level rise, extreme weather events and health impacts etc are likely to exacerbate with increased warming.

Pakistan is already facing the wrath of calamities caused by climate change in the form of floods, droughts and heatwaves, and the situation is going to worsen. Developing an understanding of how increased warming will affect different sectors is of prime importance for developing nations. Closer to 2C warming, Pakistan is likely to become more water stressed, the crop yield is going to reduce further leading to severe economic losses. However the most devastating impact highlighted in the report is the increased vulnerability to heatwaves in megacities like Karachi.

In a special section on heatwaves, the report states: “At 1.5C, twice as many megacities as present ie Lagos and Shanghai are likely to become heat stressed, potentially exposing more than 350 million people to deadly heat stress by 2050. At 2C warming, cities like Karachi and Kolkata could expect annual conditions equivalent to their deadly 2015 heatwaves”.

This means that, disturbingly, extreme heatwaves could become the new normal in Pakistan. Other noticeable impacts of warming include reduction in water availability, land degradation and reduced food production which along with other impacts would lead to exacerbation of reduction in economic growth under a 2C warming scenario.

Experts believe that we only have time till 2030 to avoid this climate catastrophe, as limiting warming to 1.5C reduces the risk to half. Although some scientists argue that holding global warming to 1.5C is a ridiculous aspiration, the IPCC believes that this is not impossible. However, it entails urgent transformational changes in all the sectors.

To make this happen, the world will have to curb global emissions to half by 2030 and zero out by 2050. Moreover, it requires a vast range of measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. The salvation lies in sourcing 70-85 percent of electricity from renewables, putting a price on carbon, ramping up technologies to remove carbon dioxide from atmosphere, investing in carbon friendly land use and forest management practices.

Although the costs of a swift transition away from fossil fuels may be substantial in the short term, they will certainly be less than the ultimate costs of an unliveable planet. For this reason, developed nations must provide the much-needed climate finance to developing countries to make this transition swiftly.

The future of our generations depends on the choices we make today. Although limiting warming to 1.5 degrees is a herculean task, if it is not done irreversible damage to the planet will occur. Therefore, there is a dire need of unprecedented changes to be made as the planet has only 12 years to escape catastrophic climate change. The clock is ticking as Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.

The writers are researchers at the Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC).