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Climate change — a threat to mankind

Avinesh Gopal
Monday, June 12, 2017

IT is something that was not a topic of discussion a few decades ago.

But now, it is a much talked about thing globally.

According to an international report, it is projected to destroy human and physical capital.

The issue is climate change.

I was fortunate to be the only journalist selected from the Pacific region to attend the Climate Change Summer School in Berlin, Germany from May 14 to 24.

Funded by the German Foreign Office in Berlin, the course was organised by the Ecologic Institute.

Sixteen other journalists from different parts of the world were also part of the training program.

Part of the program included reporting on the international two-day Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin which was opened by the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development titled "Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth" was also launched at the dialogue.

Produced in the context of the German G20 Presidency, the report is basically for G20 countries, but the issues affecting everyone globally because of climate change are quite clear.

The summer school itself gave me the opportunity to hear from German experts associated in various work related to climate change.

A wide range of topics on climate change was covered, not forgetting the Paris Agreement that was reached in 2015 and COP 23, which Fiji is hosting in Bonn, Germany in November.

Going into details of climate change, the OECD report says "the last 60 years or so have seen unprecedented human impact on the systems that underpin life on Earth".

"Industrial-scale agriculture and the massive use of fossil energy to drive economic growth have transformed the life chances of billions of people," it says.

"But they have also created an unpredictable climatic future, very different from the conditions in which humanity has thrived for the past 10,000 years.

"Since 1990, world GDP has more than doubled while carbondioxide emissions from fossil fuel use have increased by some 60 per cent, contributing to increasingly rapid climatic change."

The report says global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide — the major greenhouse gas — have now risen past 400 parts per million (ppm by volume) from a pre-industrial level of around 280ppm.

By 2012, the global mean surface temperature had increased by approximately 0.85 degrees Celsius on average from pre-industrial levels.

Each of the past three decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850, according to the report.

It says in 2015, the global mean temperatures went one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels for the first time due to the combined effects of climate change and a very strong El Nino that lasted into early 2016.

"All but one of the 16 warmest years on record has occurred since 2001, with 2016 the hottest recorded," it said.

So where might we be heading?

The report says projections of climate change depend on inherently uncertain assumptions about human behaviour and future policy choices.

It is also difficult to estimate the precise strength of the climate response to atmospheric green house gas concentrations due to the complexity of the climate system.

On "climate risks and the benefits of mitigation", the report says, climate change will lead not just to higher temperatures but also to rising sea levels, acidification of the oceans — with effects on marine ecosystems — and changing patterns of precipitation, as well as more extreme weather.

"With climate change, heat waves are likely to become more frequent and longer in duration, keeping the global average temperature increase to two degrees Celsius will significantly limit the number of people exposed to heatwaves.

"Mitigation could moderate the increase in the number of people exposed to flooding as well as limiting loss of cropland and reducing water stress," the report says.

The Paris Agreement reached at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 21) in December 2015 aims to hold the global average surface temperature increase to "well below two degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit it to the 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

As part of the process of creating a new international climate agreement under the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), each party submitted its proposed national climate action plan.

The Paris Agreement requires that parties "prepare, communicate and maintain" their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), which Fiji has also submitted.

With Fiji having the presidency of COP 23 in Bonn, the country has a lot of work to do to prepare for the international meeting.

A pre-COP has been planned for October.

Fiji's negotiator Nazhat Shameem-Khan told journalists in Berlin that Fiji was hopeful of some significant progress towards the Paris Agreement guidelines at COP 23.

Mr Bainimarama told journalists in Berlin that it would be a very different COP in Bonn.

He believes the Pacific concept of "talanoa" would help the parties move forward.

He told journalists he was convinced that this Pacific process could be applied in Bonn. "We will bring the Fijian spirit to Bonn. You can expect a lot of Fijian dancing," he had said.

In a recent development, one of the major players, the United States of America announced its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, creating fear that some other countries could follow.

But despite this fear in some, the world looks to be standing united in addressing the growing problem of climate change and finding solutions.

Like experts say, it needs a concerted effort and political will to address this problem which poses a great threat to mankind. That political will has been shown by some countries, including Fiji, which is also a voice for Pacific Island countries affected by climate change.








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