The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is one of the two official bodies on climate change, has stated in their latest Assessment Report (AR5) that warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.
Ranga Pallawala, a member of the Board of Directors at Climate Action Network South Asia said, “IPCC Working Group One report has confirmed the fact that human activities created dangerous climate change. Sri Lanka is increasingly facing the impacts of climate change with frequent and intensified extreme weather events. We need to adapt quickly but the room for adaptation is apparently shrinking too. If developed countries do not go for significant emission cuts there won’t be room for us to adapt and survive.”
The report further established that human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system. And without an aggressive mitigation strategy that sees greenhouse gas emissions stabilise this century, global temperature looks set to significantly exceed 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels by 2100 – crossing a threshold into catastrophic warming with devastating global consequences.
Science having established with certainty that climate change is human induced, and the adverse effects no longer a possibility but rather an outcome in the future, the onus has been placed on the governments to act. In order to create an impact, governments must begin the shift towards 100% clean, renewable energy as quickly as possible by tapping into the many social and economic benefits that come with modern energy solutions. This could happen through the phasing out of dirty fossil fuel subsidies and other perverse tax incentives, which subsidise polluting forms of energy rather than clean ones. Governments should also ban new fossil fuel development like coal power plants and divert their investments towards clean, renewable energy and innovative solutions to use energy more efficiently. They must protect the forests, oceans and water resources upon which our livelihoods and our economies depend. To put us on track for a safe climate future, they must work with other governments to agree to stronger emission reduction targets before 2020, when a new international climate treaty is meant to come into force, and ensure effective long-term action to keep global warming below catastrophic levels.
In order to address the adverse impacts that have been predicted due to climate change, it has become imperative for the governments to make necessary funding available to increase resilience and support vulnerable communities suffering the most from the impacts of climate change happening now. If governments phased out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and instead provided incentives for and access to clean, renewable energy for all, more funding would be available to achieve this objective. Most known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground, if we want to guarantee a safe climate future, which in turn makes it necessary for governments to divert investments from new fossil fuel development towards clean, renewable energy and innovative solutions to use energy more efficiently.
For the first time, the IPCC gives a global budget for the total amount of carbon pollution that cannot be exceeded, if we are to meet the international goal of preventing devastating levels of global warming that will occur beyond 2 degrees Celsius. That figure is 1 trillion tonnes.
However, according to Sanjay Vashist, Director of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), polluters may have already burnt through half of this, and without equitable allocations and concrete actions by governments, with poverty eradication goals to be achieved, the entire budget will be exhausted within 30 years.
He further stated, “The situation at hand requires immediate action. Climate impacts are continuing to mount and we need to reduce pollution levels quickly and drastically. This report shows that the science on climate change is clear. The debate about who is responsible is over. It is time that governments take action to address this issue in an effective manner, and not through half-hearted efforts.”
Suruchi Bhadwal, Associate Director of the Earth and Resources Institute (TERI) commented that advancement in science and new sets of scenarios will improve our understanding on the regional, national, local level impacts and vulnerabilities that are likely, and that it will further enhance our understanding and confidence levels.
The impact of climate change is directly felt on South Asia as it has been deemed ‘likely’ that the recent trend of heat waves that have been felt is directly co-related to human actions. There is a major likelihood of enhanced summer monsoon precipitation; increased rainfall extremes of landfall cyclones on the coasts of the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. Heavy precipitation of events such as heavy rainfall and floods and the intensity in which these events occur are also deemed to have a connection with human actions according to AR5.
The recent flooding of the northern state of Uttarakhand, India supports this theory as it has been said that Uttarakhand’s early monsoon season brought with it 375% more rain than in previous years. The death count of over 130 people with thousands being reported missing can be laid at the feet of the local authorities who has ignored the 2008 National Action Plan on Climate Change explicitly states that two-thirds of forest cover in Himalayan regions must be maintained and have carried out large-scale deforestation and massive construction projects, especially large dams and hydro-power projects. Calls for governments to safeguard forests, oceans and water resources have been made in the AR5 and cannot be ignored any further, if temperatures rise by four degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, an extreme wet monsoon, which currently occurs about once every hundred years, could occur every 10 years by 2100.
Events like the Pakistan flood in 2010 could become ‘commonplace,’ and could even lead to an abrupt switch to drier conditions with less rain – precipitating a major crisis in the region.
There is also major concerns over the air quality baseline surface ozone (O3), upon which local pollution builds, will decrease over most regions as rising temperatures enhance global O3 destruction, but it will increase with rising methane with the very real possibility of the rise of pollution over South Asia.
The potential for Tropical Cyclones have also increased in the South Asian region with the increase of tropical upper-tropospheric temperatures, which modulate tropical cyclone potential intensity and increasing anthropogenic emissions of black carbon and other aerosols in South Asia has been linked to reduction of Sea Surface Temperature (SST) gradients in the Northern Indian Ocean, which may have caused increase in the number of very intense storms in the Arabian Sea, including five very severe Cyclones that have occurred since 1998.There has also been a projected increase in extreme precipitation near the centres of tropical cyclones making landfall along coasts of Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.