Global Warming a Threat; Drastic Changes Needed

by October 19, 2018 0 comments

Global Warming a Threat Drastic Changes Needed

A recent discussion between the best scientists in the world, working under the IPCC, made an assessment about the current global warming situation. Hopefully, this recent assessment will being about a major shift in the way we use conventional sources of energy and fossil fuels.

The early part of October has been taken up worldwide in a debate and discussion on the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessing the scientific characteristics of climate change if the world were to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius over pre-industrial levels. The report also assesses what needs to be done to achieve this goal.  The report has generally shaken the global community which hardly needs a reminder of the serious impacts of climate change, given the destructive extreme events which are taking place all over the world. Consequently, it is hoped that this assessment by the best scientists from all over the world working under the umbrella of the IPCC brings about the urgent shifts in the manner that we use fossil fuels and conventional sources of energy.

The impacts of climate change with the 1.5 degree Celsius limit and the risks associated with them are significant in comparison with the impacts with the two degree Celsius limit.  In essence, the differences between these two goals deal with differences in mean temperature in most land and ocean regions, hot extremes in most inhabited regions, heavy precipitations in several regions, and the probability of drought and precipitation deficits in some regions.  For instance, risks from droughts and precipitation deficits are expected to be higher at two degree Celsius compared to 1.5 degree Celsius global warming in some regions.

Similarly, risks from heavy precipitation events are projected to be higher at two degree Celsius compared to 1.5 degree Celsius in several northern hemisphere high latitude and/or high elevation regions, eastern Asia and eastern North America.  Heavy precipitation associated with tropical cyclones is projected to be higher at two degree Celsius compared with 1.5 degree Celsius global warming. On the impacts of sea level rise projections suggest that reduction of 0.1 m in global sea level rise (SLR) implies that up to 10 million fewer people would be exposed to related risks, based on population in the year 2010 and assuming no adaptation.  A country like Bangladesh and several small island states in the Pacific and Caribbean region are particularly vulnerable to the physical impacts of SLR and associated risks.

A good example of adaptation to higher SLR is the case of the Netherlands, which has 25 per cent of its land area below sea level, but it has succeeded in keeping the sea out with extensive infrastructure which does not allow the sea get in, referred to as dykes. That country is currently engaged in strengthening and increasing the height of its dykes in anticipation of higher SLR in the future.  However, a large number of small island states and low-lying coastal areas are essentially part of the developing world. Consequently, these societies just do not possess the means by which they can construct their own protective infrastructure and, thus, adapt to the threat of higher sea levels.

Similarly, with cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons, it can be seen that when a cyclone hits a low-lying country like Bangladesh, there is considerable loss of life and property.  A similar intensity hurricane which hits Florida with as much impact, fortunately, results in very little loss of life, simply because there are effective early warning systems and houses are built far stronger than in a poor country.

It is unfortunate that some leaders in the world choose to ignore the voice of science.  The IPCC is an intergovernmental body that mobilises the best scientists from all over the world who devote their time and talent without any compensation in return.  The reports of the IPCC are approved by all the Governments of the world, and the summary for policymakers, the essence of the extensive scientific documents produced and designed especially for decision-makers, is approved word by word by all the Governments accepting the report by consensus.

It is difficult to understand how any leader today can say that scientists have an “agenda” behind these reports.  The only agenda dictating the work of the IPCC is the objective assessment of all aspects of the scientific reality of human-induced climate change and credible projections of the future based on robust and plausible scenarios of future developments.

In the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC it had been assessed that in order to keep within the two degree Celsius limit by the end of this century relative to pre-industrial values, the world would follow a mitigation pathway which would involve an additional cost of 0.06 per cent of global GDP annually. The new special report has elaborated on the dimensions of the energy transition that would be required for the 1.5 degree Celsius limit, and assessed that total annual average energy-related mitigation investment for the period 2015 to 2050 for moving along pathways which limit warming to 1.5 degree Celsius is estimated to be around $900 billion in 2015 values.

This would correspond to total annual average energy supply investment of $1,600 to $3800 billion and total annual average energy demand investment of $700 to $1,000 billion in 2015 values.  This means that energy related investments would be about 12 per cent higher for the 1.5 degree Celsius pathway as compared to the two degree Celsius pathways. Average annual investments in low carbon energy technologies and energy efficiencies would be upscaled by roughly a factor of five by 2050 compared to 2015.

These figures may seem overwhelming, but it would be useful to know that there are huge subsidies on fossil fuels, estimated at 6.5 per cent of global GDP in a study, which need to be removed, and the savings thus achieved today should be directed towards the investments required for transformation of the energy sector.

For a country like India there would be large co-benefits from a green energy future.  There would be lower pollution at the local level and much higher energy security for the country. We are witness today to the harmful impacts of higher oil prices on the Indian economy, with a weakening of the rupee, which further adds to the import bill in dollar terms and other ill-effects.

An earlier piece in these series had highlighted the need for India to come up with a concrete strategy for achieving greater energy independence, which requires a large overhaul of the current economic infrastructure and substantial increase in the use of renewable energy sources. It would not be a day too early if we embarked on such a course today.

(The writer is former chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2002-15)

Writer: RK Pachauri

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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