Many leaders slept on climate crisis. Will they act on what they feel on their skins now?

WION Web Team
New Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Vyomica BerryUpdated: Jul 20, 2021, 12:09 PM IST

This combination of images shows climate change Photograph:(Agencies)

Story highlights

Scientists have warned that failure to curb the world’s still-growing emissions could lead to crises from food and water shortages to worsening weather disasters and sea-level rise

Hundreds of people went missing and more than 150 died as unprecedented floods hit Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands this week.

The freak weather came just days after some parts of Europe witnessed yet another unusually hot summer.

Climate change is here, and it is here to stay.

And world leaders are doing catch-up, decades after scientists sounded the warning.

This past week, European Union policymakers unveiled their most ambitious plan yet to tackle climate change, aiming to turn green goals into concrete action this decade, and in doing so lead the way for the world's other big economies.

While the bloc produces as much as 8 per cent of global emissions, it hopes its example will elicit ambitious action from other major economies when they meet in November in Glasgow for the next milestone UN climate conference.

However, poorer member states are wary of anything that will raise costs for the consumer, while regions that depend on coal-fired power plants and mines want guarantees of more support for a transformation that will cause dislocation and require mass retraining.

According to the UN's Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), this year, Australia has ranked among the top three countries for exported greenhouse gas emissions per capita and among the top 10 nations for per capita fossil fuel use.

It ranked second-worst for carbon pricing scores, between first-ranking Chile and the United States. The ranking is based on four indicators: per capita emissions from fossil fuel combustion, per capita CO2 emissions embodied in imports, per capita CO2 emissions embodied in exports, and carbon pricing score.

And yet, the county is in denial.

Australia took a group of ambassadors snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef on Thursday in a last-minute lobbying effort to keep the World Heritage site off UNESCO's endangered list.

Why? To keep the revenues generated by it, because an 'endangered' listing would mean Australia not being able to milk the reef's tourism potential. 

Aside from its inestimable natural, scientific and environmental value, the 2,300-kilometre-long (1,400-mile) reef was worth an estimated $4.8 billion a year in tourism revenue for the Australian economy before the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia should have seen it coming. There have been several so-called 'bleaching incidents' of the reef's corals, which are very ecologically sensitive. Several warnings had been issued in the past.

And there has been no dearth of warnings about the impacts of climate change on people and the planet.

Nearly nine in 10 leading global climate economists think climate change will deepen income inequality between rich and poor countries, with most calling for urgent action to cut planet-warming emissions.

According to the World Bank, without the right policies to keep the poor safe from extreme weather and rising seas, climate change could drive over 100 million more people into poverty by 2030.

Scientists have warned that failure to curb the world’s still-growing emissions could lead to crises from food and water shortages to worsening weather disasters and sea-level rise.

The growing impacts of climate change have already pushed more than 18 million people to migrate within South Asian countries, but that could more than triple if global warming continues on its current path.

Nearly 63 million people could be forced from their homes by 2050 in the region as rising seas and rivers swallow villages, and drought-hit land no longer supports crops, said ActionAid International and Climate Action Network South Asia in a report.

Researchers believe Indian monsoons are likely to become stronger and more erratic if global warming continues unchecked, threatening farming and incomes across the region

Monsoon rains will likely increase by about 5 per cent for every degree Celsius of warming, found the study of more than 30 state-of-the-art climate models from around the world, published in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

What are countries doing about it, beyond token statements?

India is examining setting a target of net zero emissions by 2050, according to media reports. An earlier ambition of 2047, to coincide with 100 years of independence, is being discussed among senior officials in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's office.

If India does end up setting a target of no later than 2050, it will trump China's promise of 2060 and match the ambition set out by new US President Joe Biden.

Governments face a struggle to inject momentum into efforts to curb global warming, dogged by lack of consensus, scepticism and disruptive protests demanding more action.

Policymakers are under pressure as more extreme weather events, such as record floods in Europe and wildfires in Australia, Canada and the US, are linked to climate change.

According to many scientists, Russia, especially its Siberian and Arctic regions, is among the countries most exposed to climate change.

Russia has set numerous records in recent years and in June 2020 registered 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the town of Verkhoyansk, the highest temperature recorded above the Arctic circle since measurements began.

The rising mercury levels have contributed to devastating floods and forest fires that have affected Siberia with increasing regularity.

They are also contributing to the melting of permafrost, which covers about two-thirds of Russia's vast territory.

The share of fossil fuels in the world's total energy mix is as high as a decade ago, despite the falling cost of renewables and pressure on governments to act on climate change, a report by green energy policy network REN21 showed.

Meanwhile, oil companies are dragging their feet on fighting climate change and are confronting pushback from investors and courts on policy change.

Investor support for climate concerns could force oil and gas companies to rethink how fast they pivot to other forms of energy.

There is now a 40 per cent chance that global temperatures will temporarily reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in the next five years and these odds are rising, as per a UN report.

This does not yet mean that the world would already be crossing the long-term warming 1.5-degree Celsius threshold set by the Paris Climate Accord, which scientists warn is the ceiling to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. 

The Paris Accord target looks at temperature over a 30-year average, rather than a single year.

But it does underscore that "we are getting measurably and inexorably closer" to that threshold, according to World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

The next decade will require bigger adjustments, with a long-term eye on 2050, seen by scientists as a deadline for the world to reach net-zero carbon emissions or risk climate change becoming catastrophic.

While leaders have ignored climate change for as long as they can, citizens are ensuring that they wake up now.

In a handful of countries, they are suing their governments for negligence.

Leaders have ignored climate crisis till it literally banged on their doors in the form of floods and fires.

Here is hoping that they will feel the pinch at least now, when it is so close to their own skins.