Insights into Editorial : Climate warnings: On unmet emission goals
Perhaps the most pressing and important crisis facing the international community today is climate change.
Leaders from more than 200 countries have gathered in Madrid for the Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that runs from December 2-13.
The member-nations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have been trying to finalise measures under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement to commodify carbon emissions cuts, and to make it financially attractive to reduce emissions.
Two important reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on the impact of higher global temperatures on land, oceans and the cryosphere, lend further urgency to the task before countries now meeting in Madrid for the UN conference.
Sea Level rise and Degradation of Land: IPCC reports:
The IPCC scientists, whose research helps the international community decide on actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, are worried that even under the most optimistic scenarios, human health, livelihoods, biodiversity and food systems face a serious threat from climate change.
In the case of oceans and frozen areas on land, accelerated rates of loss of ice, particularly in Greenland, the Arctic and the Antarctic, will produce a destructive rise in sea levels.
Increases in tropical cyclone winds, rainfall and extreme waves, combined with relative sea level rise, will exacerbate catastrophic sea level events.
All this will deal a blow also to the health of fish stocks. What is particularly significant for countries with a long coastline, including India, is that local sea level anomalies that occurred once in a century may become annual events, due to the projected global mean sea level rise over the 21st century.
Sinking of Islands and Coastal Areas due to sea-level rise:
This is an alarming scenario for the 680 million residents of low-lying coastal areas, whose population may go up to one billion by 2050, and for those living in small islands.
It strengthens the case for industrialised nations to provide liberal, transparent funding to developing countries under the Paris Agreement, reinforcing the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities, and recognising that rich countries reduced the carbon space available to the poor.
Every year just gross deforestations are pumping out on the order of 20Gt of carbon dioxide. If we stop deforestation tomorrow that is the flux that we would stop from the biosphere to the atmosphere
Madrid Conference Focus on:
The developed world will be focusing in Madrid on
- Creating a global system of accounting for emissions reductions,
- Introducing credible carbon markets, and
- Making some of the gains from these markets available to developing nations to invest in green energy.
Given that scientists have a high degree of certainty on losses that will arise from climate change, there must be steady progress on addressing damage.
Yet, even with the highest resolve, the existing Nationally Determined Contributions filed under the Paris Agreement fall short and need augmenting.
Denmark’s parliament adopted a new climate law with some bold targets. The law legally commits it to reaching cutting emissions 70% below 1990 levels by 2030, achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and delivering climate action on the international stage – including climate finance.
New platform linking oceans and climate launched in Madrid:
- A new international initiative at the 25th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP25) currently underway in Madrid aims to kickstart the search for such solutions.
- The Platform of Science-based Ocean Solutions aims “to enhance the sharing of knowledge created by various actors in the ocean and climate community to advance ocean-climate action”.
- The platform builds on the momentum of an IPCC Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) earlier this year.
- The SROCC highlighted that “the global ocean has warmed unabated since 1970 and has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the climate system.”
- It has also absorbed 20-30 per cent of total human-caused carbon dioxide emissions since the 1980s, causing increasing surface acidification.
- The most specific aim of the new platform is “to encourage the incorporation of the ocean in climate strategies (Nationally Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans, Adaptation Communications, and National Policy Frameworks).”
- There is no nature-based solution without human-based resolutions to change things.
- That’s why we are focused on having all stakeholders together, including the private sector.
- The science has already told us what the situation is, and it is very clear. We know where to go and we know how to get there, but in order to do so we need to have everyone on board.
The new IPCC assessment underscores the need for unprecedented and urgent action in all countries that have significant greenhouse gas emissions.
There is a yawning gap between planned emissions cuts, and what needs to be done by 2030 to contain global temperature rise at 1.5°C.
Integrating oceans into national targets will be challenging. The most direct way to do this is by taking into account coastal ecosystems.
The SROCC notes, for example, that “nearly 50 percant of coastal wetlands have been lost over the last 100 years, as a result of the combined effects of localised human pressures, sea level rise, warming and extreme climate events”.
This climate-and-ocean intersection also needs a good sounding board to weed out dangerous ideas like ‘ocean fertilization’, which involves adding iron to the ocean surface to intensify the growth of carbon-absorbing phytoplankton, or generating carbon credits based on sinks.
The Platform of Science-based Ocean Solutions will be critical to building technical capacity on both these fronts.