Covid-19 virus has rattled each one of us, throwing all into unprecedented turmoil. This is however child’s play when contrasted with the anticipated impacts of climate change in respect of which Covid-19 may be considered as a rehearsal or a minor drill!
In Paris, at 7.25pm on 12 December 2015, five thousand delegates representing 195 nations unanimously accepted irrefutable evidence on the impacts of climate change and selected a pathway for the future.
On 25 February 2020 Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivette-Carnac presented us with a riveting publication entitled “The Future We Choose. Surviving the Climate Crisis.” Christiana Figueres, public face of the Paris agreement, was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework for Climate Change (UNFCC). Tom Rivette-Carnac was her Chief Political Strategist. He joined the effort to advance the Paris Agreement negotiations, mobilising support from a wide range of stakeholders outside national governments.
After selecting the pathway which could lead to change, transforming words into action can be quite a challenge. The options we face are unequivocal.
Business as usual would signify that the current mean global temperature, which is already around 1 degree Celsius above average temperatures before the industrial revolution, can warm up by 4 to 5 degrees Celsius. The impacts of such an increase in global temperature would be catastrophic.
Increasingly, in some regions, as a result of an increase in global temperature it would be impossible to stay outdoors for a length of time. Parts of the earth will, as a result, become uninhabitable. The increased temperatures at the poles will accelerate the melting of the polar ice-caps, as a result further increasing the rise in sea-level. Coastal communities will be under threat and all coastal activity and infrastructure will be severely impacted.
The change in atmospheric conditions will increase precipitation in areas and drought in others. The frequency and intensity of storms and the resulting havoc will multiply as is already evident in the various parts of the globe.
The Paris summit conclusions signified that the international community has recognised and accepted the accumulated scientific evidence on climate change. In Paris it was agreed that each individual country will identify and communicate its pledges through which they will participate in the global effort to address the causes of the change in climate. These pledges have to be updated every five years. The pledges registered so far, even if adhered to, are however insufficient to limit warming to well below two degrees Celsius, and preferably to not more than one and a half degrees Celsius, in line with the expectation of communities spread along coastal areas and low-lying islands. Much more is required to walk the talk.
To achieve the Paris targets global emissions must be reduced by not less than half not later than 2030. We must attain a carbon neutral status by not later than the year 2050.
In order to reach these essential targets Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac draw on the various proposals which have been made to date. They emphasise that the change required is significant: a change of this magnitude, they emphasise, would require major transformations in all that we do. It would require radical changes as to how we live, work and travel, along with changes to what we consume as well as to how and what to produce.
The sudden advent of the Covid-19 crisis has given a minor hint of some of the changes.
Telework must be a permanent component of our method of operation and not a temporary exception. Education can and should contain a more permanent online component.
Non-essential travel should be curtailed on a permanent basis. Where necessary, travelling should use sustainable means. This does not only include electrification of our cars, after drastically reducing their numbers, but also a substantial reduction of aeroplanes from our skies permanently. Acting on climate change means that tourism as currently practised has no future. Air travel will become quite costly if its considerable environmental impacts are internalised.
On a long-term basis the current intensive development of our road infrastructure also serves no purpose. Fewer cars on our roads will also signify extensive land use planning impacts. Local communities can then reclaim back our roads. With fewer cars there will be less need of parking space and/or garages. Our towns and villages may then be planned for residents, not for cars.
We need to appreciate and make full use of local agricultural products. However, agriculture must internalise its substantial environmental costs. The cost of production of meat and dairy products, for example, would be substantial if their environmental impacts are internalised. Christiana and Tom, comment that in 2050 food is expensive because it requires valuable resources to produce. “Water. Soil. Sweat. Time.” Clearly the current Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union has no future once we seriously start implementing the conclusions of the Paris agreement.
The impacts of Covid-19 are child’s play when considering the long-term impacts of climate change. Faced with climate change we have one practical option: a radical change in how we live, work and play. The Covid-19 rehearsal is nature’s clear warning. We ignore it at our peril.
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 11 May 2020