Why there’s hope of averting the worst impacts of climate change
What you need to know:
- The phasing out of fossil fuels and cancellation of any new fossil fuel projects is non-negotiable to avoid catastrophic extreme heat, loss of water supplies, failure of food systems and sea-level rise.
- Scientists also say meeting the ambitious Paris temperature targets of 1.5C by the end of the century is possible but will require a huge step-change in effort that must begin now, including increased financial investment and the much-needed climate finance pledged by governments.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change, warns of a bleak future if climate action is disregarded. Its latest report calls for countries to act on human-induced climate change with urgency. Healthy Nation spoke to Landry Ninteretse, the regional director for 350Africa.org, an organisation whose aim is to stop the climate crisis, especially new fossil fuel production.
What key issues does the latest IPCC report bring out with regard to emissions that affect our planet?
In 2010/19, the average annual global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were at their highest levels in human history, but the rate of growth has slowed. The latest report highlighted the need to phase out fossil fuel infrastructure, and not build any more, as existing infrastructure alone will make the 1.5-degree Celsius global temperature target impossible to reach.
The report indicated that an energy system powered by clean renewable power and storage gives countries their best chance of energy security and a safer, fairer world. Countries that have adopted low carbon policies are already seeing a drop in emissions. It also highlighted mitigation measures to be taken in different sectors such as energy, agriculture and land use, industry and transport to reduce GHG emissions.
What stood out for you in the three reports that the climate scientists working with the IPCC released since last year?
IPCC reports have indicated that the earth is warming at a higher rate than previously thought. The IPCC indicated that it is unequivocal that human activity is causing warming, resulting in widespread and rapid changes.
The IPCC has repeatedly sounded the alarm on the need for urgent action to implement deep emission cuts if global warming is to be kept under 1.5 degrees Celsius and to avert even more devastating impacts. Unless deeper and faster emission cuts are made, there will be unprecedented costs to people, economies and the environment. This is why the report has emphasised the need to phase out fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic global warming.
What is your take on adaptation linking it to what the report says?
The report indicated that adaptation cannot be an alternative to emission cuts. If warming continues at the current levels, we will increasingly see changes that we cannot adapt to. While efforts to cope with climate impacts have increased in recent years, they are often inadequate and in some cases poorly planned and funded.
The latest report and previous ones show that ‘the science is clear’ and climate action needs to be ‘now or never’. What do these statements mean to a Kenyan who feels that the impact is too far to be felt?
While many may not know the linkage between climate change and extreme weather conditions, the two are directly linked. From prolonged periods of drought in parts of the country, to irregular rainfall, flooding and rising temperatures, these happenings are evidence of climate change. Africa already suffers disproportionately from its negative impacts even though it contributes the least to global GHG emissions. Scientists project that these climate impacts are set to worsen if urgent action is not taken to significantly lower GHG emissions and keep the global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Climate action includes mitigation measures aimed at reducing emissions and adaptation measures aimed at building resilience to the impacts suffered. Developing nations such as African nations, which are the most vulnerable, need the support of the developed world, such as finance and technology transfer to put such measures in place.
Developing countries like Kenya least contribute emissions that lead to climate change but bear the brunt of the impact; what should such countries do to avert effects before it is too late?
Besides implementing national goals and plans to reduce emissions such as Nationally Determined Contributions, it is critical that nations phase out fossil projects and transition to clean energy. Developing nations, however, largely lack the resources to support mitigation and adaptation. They, therefore, require support. As part of the outcome of the UN climate talks in Paris in 2015, developed countries were urged to scale up their support to developing nations for interventions. While the goal was to raise $100 billion per year by 2020, they are yet to meet this goal, and, thus, need to not only scale up climate finance for developing countries but also put in place concrete plans and disbursement timeline.
Is there hope for a reverse in the gloomy projection of our planet even as science says we are just an inch closer to exceeding the dreaded 1.5 degrees Celsius?
There is hope to avert worse climate impacts if urgent action is taken to make drastic emission cuts. The phasing out of fossil fuels and cancellation of any new fossil fuel projects is non-negotiable to avoid catastrophic extreme heat, loss of water supplies, failure of food systems and sea-level rise. Scientists also say meeting the ambitious Paris temperature targets of 1.5C by the end of the century is possible but will require a huge step-change in effort that must begin now, including increased financial investment and the much-needed climate finance pledged by governments.
The previous IPCC report released last year shows that human activities are to blame for the negative implications; why is it hard to convince humans to change something that hurts them?
The effects of climate change are now clear. Today, more people understand the urgency and the need to reduce emissions, change lifestyles and adapt to impacts. However, the blocking comes, essentially, from the fossil industry, which wants to perpetuate its profits to the detriment of populations and the planet. Although some companies are beginning to admit their wrongs and lies, which have been nurtured for decades, it remains the main obstacle. It is time for governments to take immediate, significant action. We must also call for a stop to flow of finance to fossil fuels and instead redirect it to sustainable energy solutions.
Are our leaders failing us when it comes to the implementation of mitigation and adaptation measures that would help reverse some of the undesirable implications?
Political will to enact and effectively implement policies that support climate action is lacking in many countries. Governments across Africa are still, unfortunately, issuing licences for the exploration of fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil – with some even setting aside funds for these polluting fuels. For example, Kenya’s 2021/22 budget had allocated Sh1.3 billion to coal exploration and mining.
It is time leaders shifted focus from furthering the interests of the elite and fossil companies to what is best for the people and the environment. Commitment to implementing more ambitious goals on emission cuts, ending fossil fuels and planning a just transition to renewable energy is required. However, beyond political will, finance from the developed world is necessary as large-scale investments are needed for mitigation and adaptation.
The IPCC chair, while releasing the latest report, said ‘there’s potential to mitigate climate change;’ how practical is this considering the negative emission technologies are not readily available at scale?
The report indicated different pathways to mitigation through reduction of emissions from different sectors such as energy, agriculture, industry and transport. Among key mitigation measures proposed by the report is the need to implement major energy transitions, which will entail substantial reduction of fossil fuels and enhanced energy efficiency. It proposes decommissioning of fossil fuel installations, reduced use of the same and cancellation of new fossil infrastructure. As continents such as Africa have sufficient potential to meet their renewable energy needs, we do not need fossil fuels at all. It is, thus, possible to phase them out and implement a just and fair transition plan based on abundant renewable sources. There is need for support in the form of finance and technology transfer.