Heed climate warning signs

Heed climate warning signs

Emerging a little over a year-and-half ago, Covid-19 has been a collective shock on the human psyche. It has redefined how we live and view the future and although the crisis was largely unexpected, the same can't be said of climate change. Scientists have been trying to warn us for decades and recommended measures to cut down emissions before it is too late. It is such a pity that policymakers rarely paid attention until recently.

Over the past several weeks, a startling number of extreme weather events have emerged simultaneously as alarm bells reminding humanity of our precarious existence.

While it would be impossible to list all the troubling examples, here are a few frightening ones: temperatures reached nearly 50 degrees Celsius in usually chilly Western Canada, while a "once in a 1,000-year" flood in China's Zhengzhou city in Henan province left subway passengers stranded in chest-high water and 31 people died, not to mention the mass eviction of 200,000 residents.

Occurring at same time is epic flooding in German and other countries in Europe, as well as India and crisis-stricken Myanmar. Meanwhile, wildfires have burned 15,000 square kilometres of Siberia which is experiencing unusually warm summer, and a severe drought has caused water shortages in Iran leading to protests in a country where public criticism of the government is rare.

The signs of climate change entering a human existential level, one that affects humans and not just ice sheets in frigid regions, are beginning to take shape. These extreme events are taking place when the planet is already 1.1-1.3 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrialisation levels, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

In 2015, the Paris Climate Accord saw 196 countries pledge to limit warming below 2C (ideally 1.5C) by 2100. However, data from Climate Action Tracker, an NGO, shows we are nowhere near that goal.

In fact, despite debating emission reduction targets and passing new environmentally friendly policies such as fuel emission standards for vehicles and renewable energy goals, the world is on course for 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming.

If you're wondering what the means for the human race, a trip back three million years when the planet had a similar climate profile paints a grim picture of our future. At such an extreme temperature increase, there will be no glaciers, sea levels will be 25 metres higher, and extreme temperatures will turn life-supporting ecosystems like the Amazon into arid savannahs. For humanity, this will be nothing short of a global catastrophe with millions of people permanently displaced.

These extreme events have come at a critical time in the fight against climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of scientists that studies climate science and can sway governments and leaders, is readying its most comprehensive report yet -- to be released on Aug 9 -- on global warming since 2013. The study will highlight how climate change is affecting our planet and offer solutions that will likely be brought up in Glasgow in November at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26 meet.

Although we don't need another report to tell us what we already know, we can only hope it serves as the catalyst that spurs the world to take action. But regardless of what happens at COP26 and what new promises are made, it's time we not only discuss climate change mitigation but also prioritise practices that highlight climate change adaption, especially cutting emissions.

This is especially true for Thailand, which is extremely vulnerable to even slight changes in global temperatures. Rising sea levels are already causing saltwater to contaminate the drinking water supply and leading to drops in rice yields in coastal areas in the Upper Gulf of Thailand.

There's also the constant threat of flooding in coastal areas. The shoreline in Thailand has been eroded and inundated by rising sea water at the alarming rate of 1-5 metres annually.

If flooding wasn't bad enough, climate change will also lead to more droughts. Between 2015 and 2016, Thailand's National Hydroinformatics and Climate Data Center (HII) recorded how drought had lowered water levels in reservoirs and reduced the length of the growing season -- once again affecting crop yields. It's not hard to visualise how an uncertain climate threatens food security, which if affected will have knock-on effects on inequality, compounded further by Covid-19, and societal stability.

Although the government's commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions -- part of the country's new master plan which will be tabled at COP 26 -- is commendable, we should be pushing for more solar energy, electric vehicles, and a circular economy that follows sustainable practices. We can't afford to let our guard down but must take pre-emptive actions to help prepare for extreme weather and a perilous future.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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