Wednesday, 30 November, 2022

Global Warming: Hopeless Hopes

A K Ziauddin Ahmed

Pakistan’s unprecedented and devastating floods are frequently making headlines for quite some time. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari twitted on August 29, 2022, that floods have killed more than 1,500 people in 4 provinces. The country’s planning minister said that the damages would be greater than $10 billion. An AP news report on August 26, 2022, said that Pakistan’s prime minister Shahbaz sharif asked for international help in battling the situation and blamed climate change for the tragedy.

A decade ago in October 2012, a superstorm, hurricane Sandy, ravaged the Caribbean countries Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas, and the U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States, Sandy caused 72 direct deaths and $81.9 billion in damages. In New York, there were 14.31 feet of tidal waves, 153 km/hour winds, and relentless rainfall for 48 hours. It was unprecedented and unimaginable, and a study published on May 18, 2021, in the Nature Communications journal attributed it to the sea level rise caused by climate change.

Climate change is happening throughout the world due to global warming which in turn is the result of increased levels of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2), in the atmosphere.

Thus, the two catastrophes mentioned above are by no means exceptional weather events. Amitav Ghosh writes in his book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, “It appears that we are now in an era that will be defined precisely by events that appear, by our current standards of normality, highly improbable: flash floods, hundred-year storms, persistent droughts, spells of unprecedented heat, sudden landslides, raging torrents pouring down from breached glacial lakes, and, yes, freakish tornadoes.”

How much global warming has occurred by now that we have to consider a new normal of catastrophic weather events? How much carbon dioxide have we already added to the atmosphere? Dr. Simon Evans, a deputy editor and policy editor of Carbon Brief, estimates that humans have pumped around 2.5 trillion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere since 1850. Scientists estimate that global temperatures have already risen by around 1 degree Celsius after the industrial revolution which means within a period of less than 200 years. But 1 degree Celsius doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it? Let’s see!

Joseph Romm in his book ‘Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know,’ explains that the rise of global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial revolution level might lead to a rise of sea level by 50 to 80 feet. As the sea ice and glaciers melt in the arctic region, due to global warming, they expose the blue ocean and dark land which heat up faster causing the Arctic region to warm at twice the rate of the planet as a whole. This means even faster ice melting in the arctic. If only the Greenland ice sheet melts down then, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States, the global sea level will rise by about 23 feet.

The studies, warnings, and occurrences of catastrophic weather events, finally pursued the world leaders to adopt the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2015. The agreement signed by 196 countries came into effect on November 4, 2016, with the goal of limiting global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Since we have already raised the temperature by 1 degree Celsius, we are left with a margin of 0.5 degree Celsius only.

On March 21, 2022, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that a 45 percent reduction in global emissions by 2030 is necessary to meet that target. However, according to current national commitments, the global emissions will rather increase by 14% during the rest of the decade. In the last year alone, global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 6% - their highest levels in history. Thus, the hopes raised by the Paris Agreement are making a hopeless journey to nowhere.

The attached table shows the per capita cumulative CO2 emissions of the top twenty countries from 1850 to 2021. Per capita emissions have been obtained by dividing the total emission by the population of the country in 2021. Since the people of a country are responsible for the CO2 emissions these data may indicate national responsibilities in global warming. The figures are estimated by Carbon Brief based on the analysis of data from several sources including Global Carbon Project, CDIAC, Our World in Data, and Carbon Monitor.

It is interesting to note that the table is filled mostly by the north American and European nations – the rich nations of the world. The rich nations are typically members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD. Scientist and professor Hope Jahren of Norway points out in her book, ‘The Story of More,’ that the OECD countries account for roughly 15% of the world’s population but they occupy almost half of the world’s habitable land area and consume 40 percent of the world’s fuel and almost 50% of all the electricity generated in the world.

The rich nations are principally responsible for today’s global warming and they don’t want to give up their lifestyle of lavish consumption. On the other hand, the poor nations are racing to catch up with the rich. Meantime, the mercury is rising. In the words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.”


The writer is a former Corporate Professional and Academic