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  • Writer's pictureKarina Paul

Climate change: The greatest threat to humanity

As the world-renowned broadcaster and naturalist, David Attenborough defined climate change as "the world's largest man-made disaster." This makes Climate Change an alarming crisis which needs to be solved globally.

How is climate change the greatest threat to humanity?

Climate change is considered one of Earth's most significant causes of extinction, affecting biodiversity around us. It has already begun affecting the lives of many people around the world, especially aspects regarding our planetary health.

Climate change threatens our planet in many ways, including the rise of temperatures and sea levels; increasing rates of natural disasters – floods, droughts, typhoons, wildfires; outbreaks of diseases, causing food and resource insecurity, to name a few. The melting of glaciers and warming up of the oceans could harm and affect animals, destroy habitats, and devastate human lives and communities. These issues lead to severe global concerns like the drying up of rivers; reduction of global crop yields; displacement of communities; loss and destruction of property and infrastructure.

The negative effects of climate change worldwide are devastating as nations resort to conflicts over resource depletion; poverty; hunger; occurrences of more frequent and intense natural hazards; political instability, and so on. These issues cause a state of international unrest with serious implications on international peace and stability.

How is climate change the greatest threat to humanity?

As the pandemic hit, people started seeing first-hand how climate change can affect and wreak havoc on the planet. This nudged people towards learning more about this pressing issue and the eagerness to address this global crisis. Climate change is an existential threat disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable. Governments and corporations worldwide are coming together to address these issues holistically but are we doing enough?

Let us get to work: Agenda 2030, The Last Chance.

There is a glimmer of hope in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a plan of action for people, the planet, and prosperity.

According to the latest IPCC sixth assessment report (Synthesis Report), adverse impacts from climate change caused by humans are only set to intensify in the coming time. Global warming, caused by the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs), has distinctly increased the global surface temperatures above 1.1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels from the time period (1850-1900) to (2011-2020).

The world's greenhouse gas emissions are rising due to unsustainable energy use, land use changes, and consumption patterns. The contributions to this problem have been inequal, with historical and ongoing imbalances between regions, countries, and individuals.

The way forward is to follow and implement the following solutions at once:

  • Mitigation and Adaptation strategies to be implemented across all systems

  • Adopting synergies and trade-offs with Sustainable Development

  • Practicing equity and inclusion

  • Implementing governance and policies

  • Improving finance, technology, and international cooperation

The world's greenhouse gas emissions are rising due to unsustainable energy use, land use changes, and consumption patterns. To secure a sustainable future that limits global warming to below 1.5°C, the world must decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 30 gigatonnes annually before 2030. It is insufficient to focus solely on transportation and industry. We must also strive to reduce our carbon footprint by efficiently managing land and resources, such as implementing smart cities, curbing deforestation, and minimizing food waste. Some recommendations are as follows:

1. Communities can receive help from ecosystem-based adaptation as it helps them adjust to the devastating effects of climate change while also preserving biodiversity, improving health outcomes, increasing food security, supplying economic gains, and enhancing carbon sequestration. The low-cost measures include the protection, restoration, and sustainable management of ecosystems, as well as sustainable agricultural practices like integrating trees into farmlands and diversifying crops. Success in this approach relies heavily on collaboration with indigenous people and local communities, as well as accounting for how future global temperature rise will affect ecosystems.

2. Immediate action is crucial in preventing, minimizing, and addressing the losses and damages caused by climate change. At COP27, countries took a significant step forward by agreeing to set up funding arrangements for loss and damage, including a dedicated fund. While this is a historic achievement in climate negotiations, there is still a need for countries to decide the specifics of these funding arrangements and the new fund structure. These details will determine the sufficiency, accessibility, add-on value, and predictability of the financial support provided to those who have suffered loss and damage.

3. To prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees C, it is crucial to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions significantly soon. The best-modelled pathways to achieve this goal require GHG emissions to peak immediately or no later than 2025, followed by a steep decline of 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035, compared to 2019. To prevent further emissions, it is important to adopt a variety of strategies. This includes decommissioning current fossil fuel infrastructure, halting new projects, updating existing power plants with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, and expanding the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.

4. It is important to implement transformative adaptation measures to secure a more prosperous future. The IPCC stresses the significance of ensuring that such measures drive systemic change, span across sectors, and are distributed equitably across at-risk regions. Fortunately, there are often strong synergies between transformational mitigation and adaptation. For instance, climate-smart agriculture practices like shifting to agroforestry in the global food system can improve resilience to climate impacts while advancing mitigation efforts.

5. There are various methods for carbon removal, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Reforestation is a cost-effective and accessible option that can provide numerous benefits to communities if executed correctly. However, the carbon stored in these ecosystems is susceptible to disturbances like wildfires, which could become more frequent and severe with continued warming. On the other hand, technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) may offer a more permanent solution, but they also pose a risk of displacing croplands and compromising food security. Therefore, it is crucial to conduct thorough research, development, and deployment of emerging carbon removal technologies while also considering the benefits, costs, and risks of existing natural approaches.

6. To achieve mitigation goals, climate finance must increase significantly by 2030, ranging from three to six times the current amount. However, this gap is most significant in developing countries, especially those already struggling with debt, poor credit ratings, and the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, recent mitigation investments in Southeast Asia and developing countries in the Pacific must increase by at least sixfold, fivefold in Africa, and fourteenfold in the Middle East by 2030 to limit warming below 2 degrees C. The shortfall is most notable in agriculture, forestry, and other land use, where recent financial flows are 10 to 31 times below what is necessary to achieve the Paris Agreement's goals. Furthermore, finance for adaptation, as well as loss and damage, will also need to increase significantly.

7. It is essential to ensure a just transition and prevent anyone from being left behind as we move towards a net-zero-emissions, climate-resilient future. One way to achieve this is by reconfiguring social protection programs such as cash transfers, public works programs, and safety nets to include adaptation measures. This approach can significantly reduce communities' vulnerability to various climate impacts while promoting equity and justice. Moreover, combining such programs with efforts to enhance access to infrastructure and basic services can be particularly effective.

8. Policymakers can also design mitigation strategies that distribute the costs and benefits of reducing GHG emissions fairly. For instance, governments can phase out coal-fired electricity generation while simultaneously providing subsidised job retraining programs to help workers acquire the skills needed for new, high-quality jobs. Additionally, officials can combine policy interventions aimed at expanding access to public transit with measures to improve access to nearby, affordable housing.

Looking forward, Limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C is still possible, but only if immediate action is taken. According to the IPCC, greenhouse gas (GHG), emissions need to peak before 2025 at the latest, and GHG emissions must be nearly halved by 2030. Net-zero carbon emissions should be achieved around mid-century while ensuring a fair and fair transition. Additionally, ensuring that communities affected by the climate crisis have the necessary resources to adapt to the changing world is crucial. All stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, civil society, and individuals, must work together to achieve the desired future. There is a limited window of opportunity available, and every second counts.

-By, Karina Rachel Paul.
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