Environment

You Can’t Make Peace With the Ocean: Modern Challenges of Climate Change

In mid-February the world will mark the 15th anniversary of the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, one of the key international agreements on the fight against climate change. Alexey Kokorin, director of the Climate and Energy programme of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), spoke in an interview with valdaiclub.com about the possible consequences of this process, the contradictions of the Paris Agreement, which entered into force in January 2020, and the conflict of interests of large and small states.

Experts began to talk about climate change about fifty years ago. Since then, the level of knowledge about this process has increased dramatically. It was found that the anthropogenic aspect is the main factor in this process, and the greatest danger is posed by the burning of fossil fuels and the consequent increase of the greenhouse effect. A consensus of absolutely all climate experts has been reached on this issue, and these provisions are enshrined in both the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Reducing air emissions is identified as the long-term goal of the Paris Agreement. How countries will reach this is still unclear. Based on the document, it is necessary to keep the growth of the global average temperature on the planet within two degrees Celsius in comparison to the pre-industrial period (second half of the 19th century). However, one must take into account that the temperature has already risen by one degree; one more degree remains. It would be ideal to keep the warming process at one and a half degrees. This would help save all countries, including the small ones. But achieving this level seems unlikely. Current trends suggest that by the end of the 21st century, the warming will amount to not two, but three degrees.

The situation has become so serious that simply reducing emissions is no longer enough; we still have to seriously adapt to climate change at different levels. They are much stronger than expected 50 years ago. There are almost no positive effects of warming: 80% are negative. They include the flooding of territories due to rising sea levels, the degradation of agricultural land, the reduction of pasture areas, the expansion of habitats for malaria mosquitoes and other infections carriers, etc.

In Russia, in comparison with other countries, there are more positive consequences, but still the lion’s share of them is negative.

The largest countries still fail to see the tragedy for themselves in the average annual air temperature increase, and they are not ready to drastically reduce emissions. But small countries see this as a very serious threat. They will not be able to cope with the effects of warming on their own, even with financial assistance. 

Unfortunately, the major countries – Germany, China, Russia, the USA, France, Japan, and Russia’s BRICS partners Brazil, South Africa and India – find a common ground on this issue, which is rarely advertised. “Unfortunately,” because although they are aware of the problem, they believe that three degrees is quite acceptable damage to “my country”, including business, population and nature. And this is the consensus of all major countries. It turns out that in addition to financial assistance to developing countries, they are not ready to provide support of a different kind, and each acts for its own interests.

Other issues remain unresolved. The first thing that immediately comes to mind is whether warming is limited to three degrees, and not more. It is assumed that atmospheric emissions will not change until the middle of this century, and then will be halved. Such a scenario may lead to temperatures range, not by three, but by as any as three and a half degrees. Another crucial question is what will happen after December 31, 2100? Negative processes will continue: the sea level will rise, the number of abnormal weather events will increase. And if in the 21st century, for example, for Russia, a rising sea level wouldn’t be very noticeable, then in the 22nd century it will become serious. But this will apply only to large countries, because by that time the territories of 100, and maybe 130 small and medium-size states will be “lost” (desertified or flooded): some island states will simply go underwater, others will lose some territories and the farming capabilities. Their population will have to relocate or live on humanitarian aid. The costs of adaptation measures will inevitably increase and may become a burden for all, both for donors and recipients.

Even if enormous military spending can still be reduced and “the countries make peace,” you won’t make peace with the ocean. Therefore, it is equally necessary to curb climate change and adapt to it.As for emissions into the atmosphere, the same process is happening all over the world: on the one hand, no one is doing it on purpose, on the other hand – the reduction is really happening. It is required to solve urgent problems: in China, for example, to reduce air pollution, create jobs, and achieve energy independence. Under equal conditions, the choice is made in favour of high-tech development, which will slightly limit profits in the next 5-10 years, but it will work for the future. However, one must understand that this happens mainly in rich and powerful countries, while in other countries industrialisation has not yet begun. In particular, there are a billion of the poorest people in India who also need some kind of electricity, and the country is unlikely to be able to abandon environmentally dirty but cheap technologies. Therefore, advances in limiting the atmospheric emissions of rich countries will be compensated by increased emissions in the poorest countries with relative increase for several more decades. As a result, we get something close to parity. And this gives hope to achieve the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement.

Source: Valdai Club

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