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Reflections on IPCC special report

A recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that global warming must be limited to 1.5 degree celsius in the next twelve years, after which even a rise as small as 0.5 degrees could have devastating effects. Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0 degree Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels. It is likely to reach 1.5 degrees between 2030 and 2050 if it continues unabated. Long term changes have already happened such as sea level rise and erratic weather phenomena across the world.

Now, let’s see what can be the benefits of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. This means Arctic ice remains intact through summers, saving the habitats of polar bears, whales, seals and penguins. The world has already seen unprecedented heat waves and forest fires, raising the number of ‘highly unusual hot days’ Also, large swathes of land suffer from extreme drought now. Many regions have also seen acute water scarcity, throwing everyday life out of gear. Many plant and animal species have already seen dwindling of their range of species. Mass mortality of coral reefs is another major fallout. There is a danger that they may entirely disappear after getting heavily bleached. Flooding of coastal areas, rendering millions of people vulnerable is already causing suffering around the world. Crop yields are dropping significantly, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia, Central and South America, stunting future generations with starvation and malnourishment.

Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is expected to reduce increase in ocean temperature as well as associated increase in ocean acidity and decrease on ocean oxygen levels. Thus risk to marine biodiversity can be minimised. It will have a positive impact on human health, livelihood opportunities, food security, water supply and thus overall economic growth. Estimates of the global emission outcomes of currently stated 2 degrees as submitted under the Paris Agreement would lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions. Avoiding overshoot and reliance on future large scale carbon dioxide removal (CDR) can only be achieved if the global emissions start declining well before 2030. Thus sustainable development, eradication of poverty and reducing inequalities would be better addressed if global warming were to be limited to 1.5 degrees.

For strengthening the capacities for climate action, the governments, civil society, private sector and local communities will all have to come together. Major lifestyle changes and policy changes are required to get synergies for sustainable development goals. There will always be trade-offs but the transition will have to be managed both with acceleration of technological innovation and collective behaviour changes. I firmly believe that our schools can also make a change by becoming aware of the grave climatic situation we are faced with.

Seema Malik

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