Originally published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, The Equation.
Author: Rachel Cleetus
Deadly heat waves, extreme drought, food and water shortages, catastrophic floods, rapidly intensifying tropical storms, wildfires – worldwide – climate change is exacerbating extreme conditions and their heavy toll on people and ecosystems.
This encourages “seasons of danger”, when these influences are at their peak and it is increasingly likely that they will collide with each other. And from year to year this season, the dangers are becoming a terrifying “new normality” for all too many. The world needs to rapidly increase adaptation measures to climate change, along with efforts to drastically reduce heat-retaining emissions to limit climate change. But right now, policymakers are far from lacking, and especially richer countries have a significant responsibility to do more.
“Atlas of Human Suffering”
According to the latest IPCC Working Group II report, today over 40 percent of the world’s population lives in a context that is very sensitive to climate change. The frightening impact of climate change is already clear, prompting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to call the report an “atlas of human suffering.” Already this year, we saw the leading edge of the dangerous season of 2022. My colleague Kristy Dahl described in detail the impacts of recent dangerous seasons in the US, including forest fires, drought and heat.
Here is just a snapshot of what we’ve seen so far elsewhere in the world in 2022:
- Early, intense heat waves in India and Pakistan since March, with temperatures reaching as high as 122 F, it has caused at least 90 deaths and indescribable suffering. An attribution study shows that climate change has made this heat wave 30 times more likely. Another from the UK Met Office shows that this type of heat wave is 100 times more likely due to climate change. In addition to acute damage to public health in places where most do not have access to air conditioners, and many work outdoors, the heat wave has also severely affected wheat and other crops and dealt a devastating blow to farmers’ livelihoods. As the IPCC WGII chapter on Asia shows, the risk of these types of deadly heat waves will increase as climate change worsens.
- East Africa is suffering from a prolonged drought with catastrophic consequences for food and livelihood safety. A joint statement by meteorological and humanitarian organizations last week called the “extreme, widespread and persistent multi-season drought” affecting Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia “unprecedented”. Over a million people have been displaced, nearly 17 million people are facing high acute food insecurity, including many severely malnourished children, and millions of livestock have died.
- Catastrophic floods have hit South Africa in April this year, when two days of intense rainfall caused at least 435 deaths and billions of dollars in damage. The attribution study shows that climate change has doubled the chances of the type of extreme rainfall that caused this catastrophe.
- Deadly floods and landslides in Brazil in May, caused by heavy rain killed over 90 people.
- Three tropical cyclones hit Southeast Africa, hitting Mozambique, Malawi, Madagascar and Zimbabwe January and February, which caused heavy rainfall and flooding. Climate change has probably contributed to the increase in the probability and intensity of heavy rainfall associated with these tropical cyclones. Basic factors, including poverty and the prolonged drought in Madagascar, have exacerbated the impact on those affected.
- Forest fires broke out in Siberiawhich is one of the fastest warming parts of the world and where warmer and drier conditions have caused record fire seasons, including 2021.
- Hurricane Agathathe strongest hurricane, which reached the mainland in the eastern Pacific in May, hit the coast of Mexico last weekend, causing landslides and killing at least 11 people.
As summer in the northern hemisphere progresses, communities must be prepared for increasing dangers. The past years have brought forest fires, heat and floods to Europe; heat waves, floods and intensifying typhoons and cyclones in Asia and the Pacific; heat waves, droughts and forest fires in Brazil and other parts of South America, to name just a few of the climate impacts that are already happening. In the southern hemisphere, the season of danger often coincides with the summer months there – for example, the record forest fires that Australia has suffered in recent years.
Adaptation – and its limits
There is no doubt that we are now in a climate crisis and that we need to adapt to those changes that are inevitable. According to an IPCC WGII report, “Increasing weather and climate extremes have exposed millions of people to acute food insecurity and reduced water safety, with the greatest impacts seen in many locations and / or communities in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Isles and Arctic. (high reliability). “
However, the current approach to treating climate extremes as one-off disasters instead of part of a larger, dangerous trend leaves communities, policy makers and emergency services reactive and ill-prepared. The physical and psychological impact on the communities that are constantly affected, as well as on those who react first, is enormous. In some cases, the initial reactions of the policy were unadapted and short-sighted, in contrast to the growing risks highlighted by the latest science. Moreover, in many parts of the world, poverty and structural inequalities rooted in colonialism, unjust economic systems, and discrimination expose some people to increased risks.
The season of danger, along with ongoing slow disasters such as rising sea levels, is pushing people and ecosystems to their limits in many places. These climate catastrophes undermine economic development and hard-earned gains in public health and poverty eradication. They also intersect with other challenges such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the wider food, energy and economic consequences of the war in Ukraine. Some of the most extreme climate risks are, and will continue to be, leading to the mass displacement of people from climate danger zones.
If we fail to drastically reduce global emissions that retain heat, it will only increase misery and damage, especially for the most vulnerable and those with the least resources. Science is clear that the effects of climate change will accelerate rapidly, in a nonlinear way, as global average temperatures rise above 1.5 ° C. Many changes are irreversible or will be very long lasting.
As stated in the IPCC Working Group II report, many communities face hard and soft boundaries of adjustment – hard boundaries are physical, and soft ones are a lack of resources and political will. But now we can and must take action to save lives, limit damage and ensure that climate action is in line with sustainable development goals.
Urgent action is needed
Wealthier countries, including the United States, whose heat-retaining emissions are a major contributor to climate change, need to do much more to provide resources and resources for lower-income countries to help them adapt to climate change. This should not be seen as voluntary “humanitarian aid” provided by richer countries; this is their constant moral and ethical responsibility. It is also a key part of their obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement.
Loss and damage from climate impacts that are beyond the limits of adaptation – such as the loss of land due to rising sea – are also a growing reality in many places. Low-income climate-sensitive countries have long called for the issue to be addressed under international climate agreements, but have repeatedly faced obstacles, including COP26 in Glasgow last year. The United States and other richer countries must commit to establishing a Loss and Damage Fund in Egypt at COP27 this year, and the funds will flow soon after. Interest in climate dispute efforts is also growing, as highlighted in the IPCC WGII report.
An underappreciated but key investment is upgrading the early warning system using the latest science and technology, along with access to vulnerable communities. Early warning systems and action plans for heat waves, tropical storms and other hazards are literally saving lives. The United Nations recently set a goal to protect all people from early warning systems within five years, and the World Meteorological Organization was given the task of leading this effort.
The U.S. Congress must step up to ensure that the upcoming FG23 budget allocation process includes strong funding for international climate change funding. President Biden’s PREPARE initiative has some important elements that help improve climate resilience, but without adequate funding, those efforts will fail. And, of course, the United States must ensure a policy that fulfills its commitment to reduce heat-absorbing emissions by 50-52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. A draft budget reconciliation bill stalled in Congress is a key payment to achieve that goal. . and must be complemented by strong carbon pollution standards for power plants and vehicles and to limit methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.
Climate justice in the season of danger
It is high time to stop denying the seriousness, scale and urgency of the climate crisis. Here in the United States and around the world, challenges are common and solutions are similar. “Seasons of danger”, which are rapidly turning into dangerous years and decades, require a strong policy response and a significant commitment to finance and resources now, directly to the benefit of those most at risk.
While climate change affects us all, the heaviest burden falls on those who have the least resources and who have contributed the least to the problem. That is why tackling the climate crisis is inextricably linked to solutions focused on fairness and justice. We do not need adjustment measures that are simply aimed at supporting ordinary business and preserving the privileges, wealth and way of life that benefits a few elites. True climate resilience requires transformative change that promotes fairer economic systems and governance, where all people and communities have the opportunity to thrive in the face of the enormous challenge of climate change.
When it comes to lives, when entire communities, cultures, species and terrestrial areas are at risk – as they are now – we need to reach deeper and do better for all humanity and the precious ecosystems of the planet.
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