The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just released a special report on the effects of a global climate warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, as well as how to prevent it. According to the report, the obligations of the Paris Agreement will not be nearly enough, and an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius is highly likely between 2030 and 2052 if continuing at the same rate. If climate change is not treated as a priority around the world, the issues it creates could lead to much more conflict. Water scarcities due to desertification from prolonged droughts will result in resource wars, displacement due to sea-level rise and desertification are already creating many climate refugees, and the inability of some species to adapt to climate change could lead to the collapse of entire ecosystems.
Yet, climate change only ever seems to be on the back burner; it is not perceived as immediate and severe of a threat as it is and there are far too many excuses for refusing available resources to assuage the problem. The Paris Agreement aims to keep global temperature rise in this century under two degrees Celsius through regular emissions reports and “nationally determined contributions”. Thus, countries aim to reach peak greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, then beginning the process of emissions reduction. The IPCC now states that a change of two degrees Celsius would cause irreparable damage and that we must not let the global temperature rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial times. According to a report from Quartz, Southern Africa crossed this barrier a few years ago and is feeling its effects. Many people are under the assumption that once the temperature rise hits the number, the world as we know it will no longer exist. However, it is rather a gradual change that exponentially deteriorates, where the numbers represent points of no return.
Climate change continues to be a problem because those in power continually regard it as an issue for the next generation. Many “pseudo-solutions” appear to be doing something, but do not address the root of the issue. Therefore, it becomes somewhat of a “bandage solution” in the hope that it will last us until scientists come up with some sort of miracle technology that solves the world’s climate change issues. However, if regulators and world leaders keep putting it off, appeasing the public with the appearance of solutions, the world will reach a 1.5 degree Celsius change in global temperature soon.
Already, millions of people from places such as West Africa, Bangladesh, and the Pacific islands have been displaced due to desertification and flooding. This will continue to increase, with an estimated 143 million climate refugees by 2050, according to a World Bank report on internal climate migration. With many countries already struggling to provide for refugees and others refusing to take any in, this increase could lead to a disturbing amount of conflict and millions of displaced people with nowhere to go. Additionally, droughts creating desertification also lead to food and water scarcity, likely resulting in resource wars in many countries already unstable.
Scientific American reported that many scientists feel that the IPCC is being too conservative with the estimates in their report. This could lead to further inaction because policymakers do not know the severity and urgency of the issue. Michael Mann, a professor and the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, noted that the starting date being used for the pre-industrial global temperature is after the start of the industrial revolution. Therefore, the human impact on the climate is several tenths of a degree more than as reported in the IPCC’s findings. Additionally, many less developed countries feel that reducing their carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement inhibits them from advancing at a rate of which they are capable. However, these countries should note that more sustainable growth could prevent other issues down the road. Achieving this, however, will require substantial global cooperation, as will dealing with climate change in general.
Recycling, driving an electric car and cutting out animal products are all things consumers can do to reduce their personal carbon footprint. If everyone does this it can make a big impact. However, the largest changes must come from corporations and policymakers. The IPCC suggests that carbon emissions must in 2030 drop 45 percent from 2010 levels and be carbon neutral by 2050 to prevent the 1.5 degree increase. This could be achieved by placing stronger carbon caps on large businesses, divesting from oil corporations (an enormous source of pollution and a drain of resources) and on a macro level switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy, such as solar, wind, or geothermal. Natural gas is not the solution or even a band-aid solution as it is perceived. While it burns clean, the harvesting process is significantly more polluting than the use of fossil fuels. Nuclear power is not feasible as a band-aid solution either, as its waste has nowhere to go, and a nuclear meltdown would release an incredible amount of radiation into the air and the ocean through its cooling efforts.
Additionally, achieving these steps is not nearly as costly as many policymakers claim. In fact, in the long run, it is less expensive to divest from oil companies and switch to renewable energy, as the fossil fuel industry is as economically unsustainable as it is environmentally, and renewable energy eventually pays for itself. According to Al Jazeera, about 2.5 percent of GDP is needed to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which leaves 97.5 percent untouched. Furthermore, the renewable energy sector can create more jobs, lowering unemployment and thereby improving welfare generally. In the case of the United States, its military expenditure is larger than the next seven largest military budgets combined. If they were to put even a small fraction of this money towards more sustainable practices, it could make a huge difference, especially as the United States is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world. The animal agriculture industry must also commit to more sustainable practices, as cattle and other livestock produce immense amounts of carbon emissions in the form of methane. Promoting projects such as reforestation and afforestation, as the Great Green Wall is doing in Africa, will also help the natural process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Ultimately, preventing global warming from reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius comes down to the people in power recognizing a real threat, rather than leaving it to the next generation. We must work together to help those already affected by climate change and prevent others from facing the same fate. Limiting the global temperature rise is certainly possible, but world leaders and policymakers must be committed to working together for the common good while respecting the available resources.