Climate Change – Part II

This article is the second part of the ‘Climate Change’ series of articles. Read Part I here.

‘Climate Change’ is a hot topic for UPSC. Questions from this topic can be expected in the essay paper or any other general studies paper. Therefore, in order to cover various aspects and dimensions of this topic we bring to you a series of posts dedicated to this specific topic. We would be analysing the topic from multiple angles and at the same time provide data, quotes etc. related to the topic.

Wherever required, we will link the article with previous parts of the series. This will not only help a better understanding of the topic but also would help in revision.


Capping global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius

If the average global temperature rises by more than one degree Celsius from the present, India could “annually” expect conditions like the 2015 heat wave that killed at least 2,000, according to the ‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C,’ commissioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (prepared as a follow-up to the UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change).

The 2015 agreement in Paris, considered a landmark achievement, had the world agree to keep temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius and “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” Achieving this would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” the IPCC said in the assessment.

With the U.S. withdrawing from the accord, the chances of such an ambitious target were significantly weakened.

Capping the rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities. The global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.

However, allowing the global temperature to temporarily exceed the 1.5°C target would mean a greater reliance on techniques that remove CO2 from the air, if the aim is to return the rise in global temperature to below 1.5°C by 2100. Many of these techniques, such as carbon capture and storage, were unproven on a global scale and some carried significant risks for sustainable development, the report said.

Source: The Hindu and The Hindu


Impact of global warming on India

As per the report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if global temperatures rise by 1.5 degree celcius, coastal nations and agricultural economies like India would be the worst affected. Decline in crop yields, unprecedented climate extremes and increased susceptibility could push poverty by several million by 2050.

Source: The Hindu

For most people, the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C may seem trivial when daily temperatures fluctuate much more widely. However, the reference here is to global average temperatures. Different regions of the earth will warm at different rates. For instance, the Arctic is already experiencing warming that is many times higher than the global average.

If nations do not mount a strenuous response against climate change, average global temperatures, which have already crossed 1°C, are likely to cross the 1.5°C mark around 2040. The window of opportunity to take action is very small and closing fast.

1.5°C vs. 2°C – At 1.5°C warming, ocean acidification will be reduced (compared to 2°C warming), with better prospects for marine ecosystems. There will likely be less intense and frequent hurricanes, not as intense droughts and heat waves with smaller effects on crops, and the reduced likelihood of an ice-free Arctic in summers. Studies conservatively estimate sea levels to rise on average by about 50 cm by 2100 in a 2°C warmer world, 10 cm more than for 1.5°C warming. But beyond 2100, the overall assurance of much higher sea level rise is greater in a 2°C world.

 The risks to food security, health, fresh water, human security, livelihoods and economic growth are already on the rise and will be worse in a 2°C world. The number of people exposed to the complex and compounded risks from warming will also increase and the poorest — mostly in Asia and Africa — will suffer the worst impacts. Adaptation, or the changes required to withstand the temperature rise, will also be lower at the lower temperature limit.

The danger of crossing tipping points, or thresholds beyond which the earth’s systems are no longer able to stabilise, becomes higher with more warming. Such tipping points include melting of Greenland ice, collapse of Antarctic glaciers (which would lead to several metres of sea level rise), destruction of Amazon forests, melting of all the permafrost and so on.

India, Pakistan and China are already suffering moderate effects of warming in areas such as water availability, food production and land degradation, and these will worsen, as the report says. Closer to a 2°C increase, these impacts are expected to spread to sub-Saharan Africa, and West and East Asia.

Challenges on the global level:

  • How is the remaining carbon budget, that is the room available in the atmosphere to safely contain more CO2, going to be shared among different countries is a difficult question to address given the contentious nature of the negotiations.
  • Contributions from the U.S. and other rich countries to the Green Climate Fund and other funding mechanisms for the purpose of mitigation and adaptation are vital even to reach the goals of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — commitments that each country made prior to the Paris conference. Even if all the NDCs are implemented, the world is expected to warm by over 3°C.

Disputes over the implementation of the Paris Agreement at numerous meetings depict the deep divides among rich countries, emerging economies and least developed countries. Each country will have to decide whether to play politics on a global scale for one’s own interests or to collaborate to protect the world and its ecosystems as a whole. The path forward offers no simple or easy solutions.

Source: The Hindu and The Hindu


Way ahead:

With sound policies, the world can still pull back, although major progress must be achieved by 2030. Governments should achieve net zero CO2 addition to the atmosphere, balancing man-made emissions through removal of CO2. There is public support for this and governments must go even beyond what they have committed to.

Human activity has warmed the world by 1°C over the pre-industrial level and with another half-degree rise, many regions will have warmer extreme temperatures, raising the frequency, intensity and amount of rain or severity of drought. Risks to food security and water, heat exposure, drought and coastal submergence all increase significantly even for a 1.5°C rise.

The sensible course for national policy would be to fast-track the emissions reduction pledges made for the Paris Agreement. The commitment to generate 100 GW of solar energy by 2022 should lead to a quick scale-up and cutting down of coal use must be ensured. Agriculture needs to be strengthened with policies that improve water conservation, and afforestation should help create a large carbon sink. There is a crucial role for all the States, since their decisions will have a lock-in effect.

Source: The Hindu