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A compromised planet

According to the authors of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, global temperatures are expected to rise at least 2.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, blasting past internationally agreed targets and causing catastrophic consequences for humanity and the planet. It is already impacting lives and livelihoods and will displace millions of people.

As per NASA, the last 10 years have been the warmest years on record. Many forecasters are predicting the year 2024 to have warmer and more intense heatwaves. Due to early summer in the spring season, many countries have already experienced heatwaves since early May. The highest temperatures recorded in India are 46 degrees. These are followed by 43 degrees in Bangladesh, 46.1 in Myanmar, 43.3 degrees in Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. In other parts of Asia, scientists are predicting extreme heatwaves starting from the month of June. According to different media sources, a handful of people have already died because of scorching heatwaves in the month of May.

At the end of March and the beginning of April 2024 a region across the Sahel and West Africa experienced extreme heat, with maximum temperatures in the Sahel reaching more than 45 degree Celsius. The minimum temperatures reached 32 degree Celsius in Burkina Faso. Kayes in Mali recorded 48.5 degree Celsius on April 3.

Rising temperatures, warm spells and less rainfall have led to severe drought conditions in the Mediterranean region, affecting numerous areas across southern Italy, southern Spain, Malta, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. This trend has affected Europe for more than two years and northern Africa for six years, causing water shortages and hampering vegetation growth according to the latest report of the European Union. Droughts not only affect humans but also soil moisture and ground water as well as shortage of water available for drinking purposes. They particularly affect the livelihood of people dependent on agriculture and livestock.

According to Institute of Economics and Peace, 1.2 billion people will be displaced by 2050 due to weather related events such as sea level rise, flooding, wildfires, glacier melting, heatwaves and droughts. Per the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN’s refugee agency, an annual average of 21.5 million people were forcibly displaced each year between 2008 and 2016 due to floods, storms, wildfires and extreme temperatures.

As I write this, approximately 10,807 active fires are happening around the globe. The top burning areas are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Russia, Australia and Mexico. Climate change is fuelling wild land fires. Human induced wildfire estimates range from 55 to 99 percent, depending on the study and area covered. Either humans use fire for land clearance or for other reasons or to alter the environment in such a way that forests become more vulnerable to fires. For instance, one of the main reasons for forest fires is forest degradation. Logging, cattle ranchers, palm oil industry, non-sustainable agribusiness – all lead to a huge loss of forest and, as consequence, increase the number of fires. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the number of the most extreme fires may rise by up to 50 percent by 2100, if business as usual continues.

As of April, the unprecedented rainfall and sea level rise have already caused havoc globally. These have caused flooding in parts of the UAE, Brazil, Kenya, China, Oman, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. In Dubai, an unprecedented rainfall caused an emergency. Schools were shut down, flights cancelled, businesses were impacted and transportation was affected. In other parts of the world people have lost their dear ones and have been displaced from their homes. According to various news sources, approximately 100 people have died and 150,000 have been displaced across the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. Authorities have declared emergency in flood affected areas.

According to Institute of Economics and Peace, 1.2 billion people will be displaced by 2050 due to weather related events such as sea level rise, flooding, wildfires, glacier melting, heatwaves and droughts.

Kenya and Tanzania have been bracing for a cyclone on the heels of torrential rains and floods that have devastated East Africa, killed nearly 400 people and displaced approximately 120,000 people so far. Cars were washed away and communities went under water after major flooding in China that led to 100,000 people being displaced. At least 18 people died in Oman due to unprecedented rainfall.

In Pakistan, at least 50 people died due to lightning and heavy rainfall in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. At least 33 people were killed over three days of heavy rains and flash flooding in Afghanistan. Kurgan and Tyumen regions of Russia and parts of Kazakhstan remain threatened by some of the worst flooding in history. In Russia 100,000 people have been displaced due to flooding. Mountain and coastal provinces have been flooded in Papua New Guinea, with one coastal village considering relocating due to rising sea levels.

These events serve as stark reminders of the urgent need to address climate change and its impact on extreme weather events. It is essential for governments, communities and individuals to work together to mitigate the effects of climate change and build resilience in the face of future challenges. Addressing climate change requires a multi-faceted approach involving various sectors and stakeholders. Phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydroelectric power can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Another way forward is improving energy efficiency in buildings, transportation and industries to reduce energy consumption and emissions. The cheapest way to tackle climate crisis is planting trees and restoring forests as these can help absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Investing in infrastructure and practices that enhance resilience to climate change impacts is crucial. Promoting a circular economy where resources are reused, recycled or repurposed reduces waste and emissions associated with resource extraction and manufacturing.

Collaboration among countries is essential to address global challenges like climate change. Agreements like the Paris Agreement provide a framework for international cooperation. Developed world should win the trust of developing and underdeveloped countries by fulfilling their promise of clean technology transfer, capacity building and contributing to the promised amount into loss and damage fund so that these countries can work in adaptation and mitigation. On an individual level, we need to reduce our carbon footprints by opposing fast fashion industry.

Addressing climate change requires a coordinated effort across all sectors of society. By taking action at individual, community, corporate, and governmental levels, we can mitigate the impacts of climate change and build a more sustainable future.

The writer is an environmental expert based in the US. She is also a visiting senior research associate with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad

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