How to avoid a climate catastrophe – 07 Apr 2023

Solutions to tackle climate change are evident but political will and resources needed to implement them are lacking

In addition to a series of climate related disasters ranging from prolonged droughts to unprecedented floods, the past eight years have been the hottest on record. Despite mounting scientific evidence about the varied impacts of global warming, and over two dozen high profile climate change conferences, global emissions are still rising.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently published another sobering report, based on a synthesis of several years of scientific research. Besides highlighting the urgent need to act on climate change, this report identifies essential measures which should be adopted on an emergency basis to avoid climate catastrophe.

The first major step the IPCC urges states to focus on is methane reduction. Methane is a relatively short-lived air pollutant (which lasts around 20 years in the atmosphere before turning into carbon dioxide), but it has a disastrous impact on global warming. Methane is emitted while extracting oil and gas, during coal mining, and due to animal husbandry. Russia is one of the worst methane emissions offenders, despite its international pledges to curb this problem. Countries like Pakistan also contribute a significant amount of methane due to large livestock sectors. Drastic cuts to methane production have the potential of reducing global temperatures by half a degree Celsius, which would be of enormous help in addressing global warming.

The IPCC highlights the need for halting deforestation next, which is resulting in the destruction of natural carbon sinks. Population pressures, demand for cultivable land, and timber mafias are causing unsustainable deforestation around the world. The IPCC specifically points to the alarming rate of rainforest deforestation in the Amazon and the Congo basins, and in palm oil producing countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.

The IPCC stresses the need to protect and restore wetlands which also store vast amounts of carbon, but have been aggressively drained for agriculture and housing, especially within the vicinity of over-crowded cities like Karachi.

The IPCC also calls for protecting the world’s oceans which are also major natural carbon sinks. Yet, the ability of oceans to store carbon is being rapidly diminished due to rising temperatures and the pumping of agricultural runoff into the seas which causes algae to bloom, damages coral reefs, disturbs the natural carbon cycle of oceans, and has a devastating impact on marine life.

The IPCC urges a shift in eating habits around the world. A staggering amount of meat and dairy is consumed globally, which are much more resource intensive food sources than equally nutritious plants.

Finally, the IPCC calls for scaling up use of alternative energy such as solar power, making energy use more efficient, and desisting from burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil. However, accomplishing this goal remains elusive at best. Many governments are still enabling oil and gas drilling, and rich oil exporting countries are reluctant to forgo exploiting such a major source of wealth accumulation. Investing in coal-fired energy plants is also quite cheap for resource constrained countries if the environmental damage caused by them is discounted, which is often what happens, especially in countries still struggling to provide adequate energy to fuel production and cater to the unmet energy demands.

While the solutions to contend with climate change are evident, the political will and resources needed to implement them are lackluster. There were hundreds of fossil fuel lobbyists at the last climate moot (COP 27) in Egypt. The next one is scheduled in Dubai, despite the UAE being a major oil producer. Poor countries need to rise to the task of being environmentally responsible, and should also make more efforts to mitigate against climate induced disasters. However, entities like the IPCC must step up pressure on industrialised countries with historically high emission levels to help resource-constrained countries make their economies greener. IPCC and other relevant international environmental groups must also exert consistent pressure on rich industrialised countries to compensate poorer countries, like Pakistan, which have incurred major ‘loss and damages’ due to already unfolding climate change impacts.

Read more