The World Meteorological Organisation has recently reported that the first 10 months of 2012 were the ninth warmest since records began in the mid-19th century. Many regions have faced extreme droughts, floods and heat-waves while the extent of Arctic sea ice reached a new record low. “Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records,” stated the head of the Geneva-based WMO in a report issued at the global climate change talks currently taking place in Doha, Qatar. The WMO is an agency of the United Nations and has a membership of 190 member-states and territories.
This report came out in the first half of the two-week long UN climate change conference 2012, where governments are wrangling over the form of a new global agreement on climate change, that could eventually replace the Kyoto Protocol. Nearly 200 countries are meeting in Doha, but there are few signs of agreement. According to Joydeep Gupta, a climate change expert covering these talks, “The annual global climate summit has reached the halfway mark with its basic issue unresolved — developing countries want developed countries to keep their promises and make more pledges before going forward, while developed countries want to move ahead to a regime where all countries commit to arrest emissions of greenhouse gases that are warming the earth”.
The US has in fact made it clear it is not on the same page on equity as developing nations. The deputy chief climate envoy of the US, Jonathan Pershing, told NGOs in an informal briefing session in Doha that it would be hard for him “to go back to the Congress and sell the idea of equity espoused by the developing countries”. Developing countries maintain that rich nations where less than a quarter of the world population lives, emit more than 70 per cent of the greenhouse gasses so they want the rich countries to do more to cut emissions. He also made it very clear that the US is unlikely to raise its ambition to reduce emissions. “It looks unlikely that the US will change the number (17 per cent by 2020) between now and 2020,” he said. There is also no money forthcoming from rich countries for the Green Climate Fund that was set up earlier this year to help developing countries adapt to climate change.
To make matters worse, in 2011 poorer developing countries have been hit much harder by climate change, according to the new edition of the Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index. The ranking, which was also presented in Doha, concludes that Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan and El Salvador are on top of those countries that suffered most from extreme weather events in 2011. According to Germanwatch, “Recent science results also tell us that climate change is an increasing factor in the occurrence of very heavy events. In Doha, we need serious progress in the negotiations on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, on increasing support for adaptation, and the kick-off for the development of an international mechanism to address loss and damage”. It looks like Pakistan is going to be one of the most vulnerable countries in the world — in 2010 it ranked as No. 1 on the Global Climate Risk Index and in 2011 it ranked No. 3.Without serious cuts in emissions, which seem unlikely from the goings on in Doha so far, it looks like the world is all set to get warmer. The World Bank also recently issued their report entitled “Turn Down The Heat: Why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided”, which spells out what the world would be like if it warmed by 4°C (which is what scientists are nearly unanimously predicting by the end of the century, without serious policy changes).
The 4°C scenarios are devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems. Most importantly, “a 4°C world would be so dramatically different from today’s world that it is hard to describe accurately; much relies on complex projections and interpretations”. The World Bank report warns, “Finding ways to avoid that scenario is vital for the health and welfare of communities around the world. While every region of the world will be affected, the poor and most vulnerable would be hit hardest”. Can we avoid a 4°C world or are we running out of time?