One year after meeting in Glasgow, world governments are meeting again in Sharm El-Sheikh next week to decide on urgent measures to avert a global climate catastrophe.
A lot has happened in that one year. Record heat waves have baked North America, Europe, South Asia and China. Wildfires have raged across the tundra, there have been unprecedented floods in Pakistan, storms have ravaged coastlines. Weather extremes that scientists had said would happen in the 2040s are already taking place.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh is happening even as smoke from crop residue burning shrouds north India and blows up towards Himalayan glaciers, accelerating their melt. Nepal saw unseasonal post-monsoon rains that killed as many as 100 people in landslides and debris flows.
There have been a slew of scientific reports in the run-up to COP27, each more alarmist than others. Despite climate denialism, there is no question that we are already in a climate emergency. It is too late to start thinking about what to do, it is time to cut emissions to limit average global temperatures to within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by 2050.
This week’s Emissions Gap Report 2022 by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) calls itself ‘a testimony to inadequate action on the global climate crisis’ and calls for a credible pathway to 1.5°C which would require annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be reduced by 45% in the next eight years, and continue to decline rapidly after that.
In the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Sixth Assessment Report scientists have even more apocalyptic predictions. Even if the 1.5C cap is reached between 2041-2100, up to 14% of terrestrial species in nature will likely face a very high risk of extinction. If the increase is 3C then 29% of species will be gone, and half of all plant and animal species will be extinct if greenhouse gases continue to be pumped into the atmosphere at the present rate, and global average temperatures rise by 5°C.
The IPCC warns of widespread impacts to ecosystems, people, settlements, and infrastructure from increases in the frequency and intensity of weather extremes. The worrying thing is that this is not a prediction – it is already happening.
In its chapter on the world’s mountain regions, the IPCC says there will be accelerated glacial retreat, increased permafrost thaw, and an increase in the number and size of glacial lakes. Plants and pathogens will move to higher elevations.
The Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau is the biggest storehouse of frozen water aside from the two polar regions, and up to 1.2 billion people downstream in Asia depend on rivers that originate there. The IPCC says disruptions in the water cycle will affect agriculture, and increase landslide and floods hazards.
Whatever Nepal burns or does not burn and how much is not going to make much a different to the planet. But it will determine Nepal’s economic survival. It is imperative that Nepal’s new government after the November elections take resolute steps to reduce petroleum imports top reduce the country’s trade deficit, and to lessen air pollution.