The world today is ‘locked’ in more sense than one. Brutal inequality, dreadful terrorism, unashamed threats on territorial claims and bullying on nuclear missile attacks have all locked the civilization in spiral trajectory of global hazard without any sign of slowing down.
Recent climate studies by Nature Climate Change, published on 31st July 2017, expose that the world has also ‘locked’ itself in the way never happened in human history of more than eight hundred thousand years when even ancestors of Neanderthals-homo sapiens sapiens lived.
It reveals steady and steep rise of warming of the Earth’s temperature due to the human induced Green House Gases (GHGs) that have already been emitted in the past, thereby locking the fate of the Earth due to climate change. As per study, there is only one percent chance, irrespective of the global action, to limit the temperature rise at 1.5 deg Celsius. 1.5 deg C is the lower limit of the range of warming agreed in 2015 in Paris accord. Article 2 of the Paris accord aims at “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”. We are certainly locked in the trajectory leading to 1.5 deg C warming.
Research published earlier in May 2017 in Journal Geophysical Research Letters also stated that the Earth’s warming now is already on the way to touch 1.5 deg C and it will, in all its certainty, cross that figure in 9 years from now, whatever kind of efforts we pursue.
As regards the upper warming limit of 2 deg cent pledged in the Paris agreement, many scientists including those who wrote fifth assessment reports of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warn that crossing of 2 degrees C warming above the pre-industrial level would be catastrophic to humanity. In reality, ‘beyond 2 deg C’ is called as death-zone which may trigger ‘runaway’ climate change leading to globally disastrous and uncontrolled chain of extreme events that would signal beginning of extinction of life on the Earth!
European Commission’s Joint Research Centre this month published a study , based on study by Lancet Planetary Health, that hinted at the beginning of the global catastrophe. It said that the deaths caused by extreme weather in Europe could rise from 3,000 a year between 1981 and 2010 to 50 times that figure i.e.152,000 a year between 2071 and 2100. Europeans have the best social health system in the world to protect themselves. Those death numbers in Europe would look minuscule if we think of what would happen in poor developing countries.
Recent impacts of rise in temperature point out that there is an exceptionally shocking probability that the Earth would get ‘locked’ in uncontrolled chain reactions called ‘runaway climate change’ or ‘runway temperature rise’. One of the scenarios is related to melting of glaciers, permafrost, Arctic and Antarctic. The ice-melt would result into releasing the massive emissions of GHGs like CO2 and Methane trapped for centuries under the ice which would warm the planet more and cause more melt due to rise in warming thus ‘locking’ the Earth in the vicious cycle. Last week a study published in Geological Society of London revealed that there are 91 volcanoes, not known before, buried under the ice in Antarctica which if exposed due to ice melt and if become live, can belch out massive amounts of GHGs and warm the planet in unprecedented speed thawing more ice. Less ice also means less white surface to reflect the sunlight and heat, back in space thereby causing more warming.
As the world’s oceans warm, not only marine life is at risk of extinction, but the massive stores of dissolved carbon dioxide may be quick to bubble out into the atmosphere and further amplify the temperature rise and continue the cycle towards runaway climate change.
This month’s real ‘breaking news’ was of breaking away of the large iceberg –three times the size of Mauritius-from the fourth largest ice shelf of Antarctica. The icebergs, being a floating mass do not raise the sea level. However, the glaciers of the land-snow in Antarctica which are held in place by the walls of the icebergs would now start emptying in sea, which would start raising the sea-level.
More stunning possibility that has become the hot debate in the realms of science of oceanography is about the disruption in the oceanic currents. The debate revolves around the scenario that the melting ice from poles may cause the huge ocean currents-called heat conveyor belts, responsible to keep the northern countries warm and to cause the healthy rain patterns including monsoon rains, to either slow down or stop or reverse. The consequences are not well established but they are called as scenes inside the ‘black hole’ of uncertainties. Those may evoke Jules Vernes of the world to write science fictions of catastrophes. Some scientists have already observed the slowing down of the ocean currents.
To top it all, on 4th August, Trump government gave notice to United Nations that: “United States intends to exercise its right to withdraw from the (Paris Climate) Agreement.” It has created situation that would “slow down the conveyor belts of diplomacy” as per one of the Climate negotiators from small island country.
Paris Climate Agreement, interestingly has already entered into the force on 4th November 2016 and as per Article 28 of that agreement, withdrawal by the country that already ratified the Protocol –which USA did when Obama was the President- is possible only after three years from the date of entry into force. Further, such withdrawal would be effective ‘upon expiry of one year from the date of receipt of the notification of the withdrawal’. The earliest official withdrawal of USA from Paris Climate Agreement, therefore, can take place only on 4th November 2020, around the time when next President of USA would be declared.
Is Trump himself locked in the Article 28 of the Paris Climate Agreement or the world is locked in Trumponian ambiguity? Whatever is the case, the key to unlock the climate puzzle may need flood of positive runaway efforts at planetary scale. END
By Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, IIT Alumnus and former director UNEP