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Climate change: The ‘irreversible’ impacts of global warming – Times of India

“What makes climate change difficult is that it is not an instantaneous catastrophic event, it’s a slow-moving issue that, on a day-to-day basis, people don’t experience and don’t see.”- During one of the interviews, Barack Obama, Ex-President, USA drew attention to a quieter war which is an issue of grave concern now. Rising seas, freakish storms, deadly droughts, and other symptoms of a planet choking on its fumes are happening now. When we hear about rising temperatures and the impact they are having on our planet, we may feel an enormous challenge. But how can we deal with the most serious crisis of our time which is happening more quickly than we feared? 

The United Nations Climate Change Conference 2021 (COP26) stated that it’s a ‘make or break year’ in the fight against climate change. No corner of the globe is immune from the devastating consequences of climate change. There are some distressing realities of climate change that demand our attention before it gets more crucial. 

Climate impact is no far-off reality, it’s happening now

Rising temperatures, natural calamities, weather extremes, food and water insecurity are some serious issues that the world is presently facing. Natural catastrophes such as floods, cyclones, and fires caused by the climate crisis have driven millions of people from their homes every year for a decade. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that human-induced climate change is causing a widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world. Another IPCC report says that the Global warming limit of 1.5°C may be breached by 2040. The crop productivity growth in Africa is badly affected due to climate change. More than half the global population is facing water scarcity. Several climate-sensitive diseases like malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, cholera, and Lyme disease, are expected to soar high. The world is also facing a biodiversity crisis, the animals and birds are either moving to higher latitudes and elevations or experiencing mass die-offs. Animals such as Bramble Cay Melomys (a small rodent) and Golden toads are almost lost. 99% of the Golden toad population has declined within a single year. 

Societies exposed to risks due to climate change

A major impact of climate change will be seen on food production and crop growth which may drive 122 million people into extreme poverty. Humans are responsible for climate change largely due to greenhouse gas emissions. The global average atmospheric carbon dioxide is setting a new high and peaks at 420 parts per million. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ at the World Leaders Summit 2021 warned the world, “Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. We are digging our graves.” The CO2 exposure may lead to rapid breathing, confusion, increased cardiac output, elevated blood pressure, etc. The climate crisis may also bring a serious threat to children’s health. Around the world, a ‘dramatic increase’ in floods may be seen in 2030. Species and ecosystems can also face severe impacts of climate change and Mangrove forests will not be able to survive by 2050.  

Global temperature rise and its irreversible impact

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2°F(1°C) due to excessive emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to a report released by IPCC, the average global temperatures will rise by 2.1–3.5°C which is above the 1.5–2 °C limit laid out as a goal by the nations that signed the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The fluctuation in global temperature is the major reason for extreme cold and hot in many regions of the world. Global warming’s impact on bodies such as glaciers, ice sheets, and oceans will continue to be felt for centuries. Sea levels around the world are projected to rise by 3.9metres (13 feet) by 2150 which would alter entire coastlines currently inhabited by millions of people. Also, 14% of terrestrial species will face high risks of extinction due to global warming. The most severe impacts of global warming such as massive forest loss, ice-sheet collapse, or an abrupt change in ocean circulation cannot be ruled out. The Earth is heating up and its adverse effects are intense droughts, stronger storms, longer heatwaves, and extreme precipitation. The sea levels are rising, forests are burning, the Arctic is melting, and oceans are acidifying. Climate change is already impacting every corner of the world and spreading widely which may lead to multiple hazards. Droughts and heatwaves may have negative consequences for agriculture, heat-related mortality may increase and labor productivity rate can fall. The direct impact of low labor productivity will be seen in the low families’ incomes. The rising food prices due to the climate crisis may further intensify the health risks like malnutrition. 

Development challenges 

The IPCC report suggests that almost 3.3bn-3.6bn people are highly vulnerable to climate disasters. There are other risks attached to it such as poverty, weak governance, and limited access to basic services like healthcare. This challenge is especially acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where 60% of the urban population lives in informal settlements, and in Asia, where 529 million people reside in these vulnerable areas. People who are dependent on agriculture, tourism, and fishing for their livelihoods are directly exposed to climate risks. They are forced to move to urban centers due to the non-availability of basic sources and low income which forces them to live on the margins. The climate crisis can have a cascading effect on people’s health, food security, access to clean water, and livelihoods, which makes them even more vulnerable to future risks.

Towards transformative change 

Seeing the alarming threats, urgent action is required to adapt to climate change. Adaptation is the strategy here; it is essential to make rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to keep the maximum number of adaptation windows open. There is an urgency to find sustainable adaptation solutions that are ‘effective, feasible, and capable of reducing risks for both societies and ecosystems. Presently 170 countries are incorporating adaptation into their climate policies. 

Summing up

Adaptation and mitigation, by promoting social innovation, health, equity and inclusion have the potential to offer many co-benefits. The solution lies in increasing our efforts in tackling this issue of climate change and taking a collective, bold action. ‘Backing nature is the best way to adapt to and slow climate change. Nature can be our savior but only if we save it first.’

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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