Present Climate Crisis challenge
Countries of the world are in a race against time to address the present climate crisis, a global challenge that has brought us to a state of climate emergency. We have no more time and the climate crisis is one that we all cannot dare not to act upon! Amidst dire impacts, we must figure out how to adjust our way of life to continue living as we combat further occurrences of climate change.
Despite governments adopting various decisions and acting to respond to climate change since 1994 within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the world is presently at a climate cross-roads. Despite global climate frameworks playing an important role in trying to hold together our climate system without compromising it, more is at stake now compared to years back. I am still trying to wrap my mind around these three questions: How did we get to a state of climate emergency amidst a global climate response framework? Have we entirely lost the fight? How do we make a difference?
In 2015, the global community requested the Inter-Governmental Climate science body (Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change -IPCCC) to prepare a special report  on impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. A fundamental truth revealed by the report is human activities have caused about 1.0 degrees of the earth’s warming.
Conventional industrialization and development choices have got us to the present climate emergency. While we continue to run our economies on fossil fuels, the climate system is being chocked and life is drained out of it. The results of this being seen across the world are dire! Melting of snow and glacier, rise in sea level, increase in temperature, changing weather patterns, varying precipitation levels and increased wind velocity. These changes are continually manifested within our environmental, social and economic systems. Impacts due to global warming unfortunately affect humanity disproportionately. The poor in poor countries, who barely contribute to the problem, are suffering the most for they are extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts. They are under a real threat of permanent poverty and exacerbated inequalities.
Taking an example of Africa, the continent approximately accounts for 3 GtCO2e per year, which is about 3.8% of total global GHG emissions annually. Despite this low greenhouse gas emission level, the continent is increasingly falling prey to climate impacts. The global climate change scientific body (IPCC) in its 5th assessment report demonstrates that surface temperatures across Africa have increased by 0.5-2°C. The report provides further evidence that temperatures in the continent are likely to increase more rapidly than other parts of the world surpassing 2°C by midway of the 21st century and 4°C by the close of the 21st century.
It is important to acknowledge that the future within a shared climate system, if nothing is done, remains blink. Time to act is running out. Scientific evidence shows that we only have until 2030, less than 10 years from now, to:
- have emission levels reduced by 45% below 2010 levels to reach net zero levels by 2050
- limit global emissions from exceeding beyond 22 -30 GtCO2e in 2030 to avoid 1.5 degrees rise in temperature.
Urgency to Act!
An inevitable reality that demands massive changes in the energy, transport, infrastructure, industrial systems and land use to limit carbon emissions is now with us. Amidst the Corona virus pandemic, the global community must re-think our development pathways to deliver ambitious emission reduction and leapfrog the world to green recovery.
If our emission intensive development business remains usual, the global temperature will likely rise to 1.5 degrees in 2030. This would mean that there would be great change in temperature, precipitation from present. Essentially, there will be increased and extreme hot temperatures within different regions including increased probability of risks from drought and low precipitation while other areas shall experience increased intensity of precipitation. The world will be burning and climate change impacts will be more intense. Natural – land and ocean, human, economic and social systems will be impacted on.
Relenting on the urgent need to limit global temperature below 1.5 degrees will compromise on our ability to avoid severe climate change impacts and achieve sustainable development. The IPCC 1.5 degrees special report clearly says ‘avoided impacts of climate change on sustainable development will be greater if the global temperature is limited to 1.5 degrees.’ Going beyond 1.5 degrees would just mean we would be losing our earth and things would get out of hand including progress towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.
Failure to respond to the present scientific evidence and urgently make required adjustments would mean severe climate change. Despite this simple to grasp scientifically proven and life-observed reality, the global economic systems that are majorly built and ran on fossil fuels continue to exert a resisting force to change. Behind these systems lie unrelenting oil companies and climate denials willing to derail and halt climate ambition and green revolution course just to keep in business sadly at the expense of a wailing climate system. With the upper hand they command in market systems and political influence, their continued push for business-as-usual dirty energy is a clear denial of the climate urgency.
Solutions to the climate crisis should be the focus of the global community. They are much needed now more than ever before. Unfortunately, the architecture of such solutions is pegged on the climate policy regime. The United Nations Global climate policy process, like any other, is a complex one entailing dynamic geo-political interests. Countries at the end of the day need to have a common position on how to address climate issues. Arriving at this position is not just challenging but a difficult task. Whereas you would expect governments, in response to the overwhelming citizens call for climate action, to make radical decisions that tackle the climate crisis, they are mostly lost in technical and interest driven positions compromising consensus on how to jointly act on climate. This curtails progress on global climate action. The unfortunate truth is that the climate crisis is getting worse. It does not respect ‘global climate negotiation processes’
Morality demands causing no harm to humanity. It demands taking responsibility to protect both nature and people. As simple and just as this sounds, the climate crisis is a result of continuous perpetration of unjust destructive acts on a shared climate system. Those rich, developed with economic and political leverage have in lieu downplayed the implications of their actions. Some have openly denied existence of climate change, a problem they caused. The hidden hand in the shying of responsibility being economic considerations.
A stronger public discourse clearly needs to be set. Climate justice demands that we halt climate change now. It acknowledges that the poor will continue to suffer and our ambition of a world free of poverty will be sunk by the inaction of rich countries who caused this problem if emissions are not cut. Within the complexities of development politics, a publicly driven call for a shift to sustainable low-carbon future premised on climate justice principles is required to challenge dirty socio-economic practices
The redeeming opportunity: Paris Agreement Implementation
We are all in one global boat at risk if being sunk by our own in-action! The good thing is we have some hope if we do things right. Doing it right means developed countries enhance their emission reduction ambition, provide financing for climate action, the most vulnerable ones have access to finance for adaptation and resilience building, capacity development, technology development and climate interventions respond to various gender needs.
Governments have one mandate – to Make the Paris Agreement work for the planet and people. This is not just a Convention’s or Paris Agreement’s mandate, but a People’s mandate. More people are rallying the global climate call each day. Local communities, children, youth, women, indigenous people, religious leaders are reminding governments that climate action is not a request but a mandate to deliver on now! They understand that inaction is inexcusable when it comes to nature’s wellbeing and rights of the people to clean, safe and sustainable environment.
Operationalizing the Paris Agreement within the purview of science and urgent climate action is paramount!
Countries need to enhance their emission reduction ambition in view of Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5 Special Report. As it stands right now, we have an ambition gap. The committed emission reduction pathways by countries within their current emission reduction commitments (Nationally Determined Contributions – NDC) will not get us to limiting global temperature below 1.5 degrees. Higher targets need to be set!
The Emissions Gap Report 2018  indicates that the world emissions should not exceed 22 -30 GtCO2e in 2030 to limit increase in temperature below 1.5 with a 66% chance. Putting the current NDCs into perspective, the present gap in emission reduction ambition by 2030 is 29GtCO2e if only conditional NDCs are implemented and 32 GtCO2e if only unconditional NDCs are implemented.
As the 2020 NDC review is on, countries need to understand that this is the last chance we have. We must close the ambition gap by raising NDC targets to attain Paris Agreement temperature goal. We may never stand a better chance to save our climate system.
Not just an appreciation but actioning of adaptation and resilience building measures secures life and livelihoods. Climate change is impacting on livelihoods, economic and social systems globally. For a fact, vulnerable countries mainly Small Island states, Least Developed countries and developing countries are most affected. A 2016 analysis by the World Bank and Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) estimates that 26 million people are pushed to poverty due to weather-related disasters out of which 90% have a link to climate change. Climate disasters are costed at an estimate of $540billion every year.
Climate change impacts are experienced at the local level by local communities. Ask communities about climate change, they point you to the real effects affecting their lives and livelihoods seen in their context. They are always at the forefront of these impacts. Climate impacts have serious implications to the well-being of people and hamper their contribution to economic growth compromising efforts to fight poverty.
To address these impacts, adjustments in various social, ecological and economic systems needs to be done considering vulnerability to climate change. Adaptation provides an opportunity to protect people, ecosystems, livelihoods and investments. The ability of the society to cope with the impacts of climate change is dependent on several factors:
- governance that enables people realize their ambition to develop solutions and facilitates these solutions including through responsive policies, programming and budgeting
- social and technical skills of society to design and build/ strengthen institutional capacity
- access to climate information for planning and informing livelihood strengthening
- access to climate finance and increased investments in resilience building
Enhancing adaptation is a call we cannot relent on. Calling on governments to take proactive actions and put in place adaptation policies, strengthen institutions, invest in climate proofing all production and facilitative systems and further put in place mechanisms to support local community resilience building solutions is an urgent task. Financing is needed to make adaptation and resilience building a reality and we should ensure that it is not missed out on during the NDC review. Countries must adapt and build resilience to survive the hard-hitting climate change impacts.
 National commitments to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change impacts. https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/nationally-determined-contributions-ndcs
 2018 Emissions Gap report. http://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/26895/EGR2018_FullReport_EN.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y