Arshad Shaikh looks at the latest IPCC report that details the current and future impact of climate change. This report is a wake-up call for humanity. If governments and people do not do enough to control this man-made disaster, we will be staring at apocalypse sooner rather than later.
Talking about the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said: “I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this. This is code red for humanity. We must combine forces now to avert climate catastrophe.”
So, what exactly is so frightening in this report published by the IPCC, an intergovernmental body of the United Nations (UN) representing 195 countries, that provides policymakers with scientific assessments on the risks and implications of climate change? What are the challenges that governments must surmount to avert the impending climate cataclysm? What is the position of India and how are we gearing ourselves for this clear and present danger? Can Islam and the Muslim Ummah play a positive role given this seemingly unstoppable calamity?
THE APOCALYPTIC REPORT
The IPCC has so far released five reports in 1990, 1995, 2001, 2007 and 2015. The latest report is the second part of its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The first part of AR6 focused on how greenhouse gasses (GHGs) are causing extensive planetary damage, while the current report looks at the causes, impacts, and possible solutions to climate change.
A succinct form of the 3765 pages long IPCC report is available for policymakers in the form of a 37-page SPM (Summary for Policymakers). It talks about: (a) The Current State of the Climate, (b) Possible Climate Scenarios, (c) Climate Information for Risk Assessment and Regional Adaptation, and (d) Limiting Future Climate Change.
Some of the conclusions in the report that should be an eye-opener for governments are:
- It is indisputable that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.
- The rate at which human influence has warmed the climate in just the last few centuries is much greater than thousands of years.
- The main culprit responsible for global warming is emissions from human activities, with GHGs warming partly masked by aerosol cooling.
- Climate change is already affecting every inhabited region across the globe, with human influence responsible for many observed changes in weather and climate extremes.
- Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least 2050 irrespective of all emissions scenarios. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.
- Many changes in the climate system will keep increasing in direct proportion to increasing global warming. They include increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, heavy precipitation, and, in some regions, agricultural and ecological droughts; an increase in the proportion of intense tropical cyclones; and reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.
- Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level. The prescription for governments and policymakers is simple – “From a physical science perspective, limiting human-induced global warming to a specific level requires limiting cumulative CO2 emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2 emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions. Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4 emissions would also limit the warming effect resulting from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality”.
The latest IPCC AR6 tells us that the space to avert an ecological calamity is shrinking fast and that things are far worse than we ever thought. In the next few decades, food insecurity, poverty, diseases, and ill health will worsen. It is estimated that around 40% of the world’s population is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Many parts of the world, specifically in the continent of Africa may become uninhabitable. Mass annihilation of flora and fauna has already begun.
In economic terms, the world may lose 10% of total economic value from climate change by 2050 if net-zero targets are not met. Asia, Africa and the Middle East stand to lose more than a fourth of their GDP by 2050. In comparison, the global economy reduced by 5% due to the COVID-19 pandemic and by 1% due to the 2008 global financial crisis.
Climate migration is one of the key negative externalities of climate change. It is estimated that by the middle of this century, up to 32 million would be forced to migrate in just West Africa itself.
The other dreadful situation is that of rising wet-bulb temperatures. Unlike the standard temperature, wet-bulb temperature accounts for both heat and humidity and is directly linked to the human body’s ability to cool down. It is said that a wet-bulb temperature of 31°C is very dangerous for humans, while survival even for healthy individuals is next to impossible for a wet-bulb temperature of over 35°C.
Several cities in India like Mumbai, Chennai, Patna, Indore, Bhubaneshwar and Lucknow are approaching dangerous levels of heat and humidity. Currently, India experiences wet-bulb temperatures of 25-30°C. However, this could change for the worse very fast and many parts of north India and coastal India may see wet-bulb temperatures of 31°C and may even reach the non-survivable limit of 35°C.
The impact this can have on heat-wave linked deaths and reduced productivity will be enormous. The IPCC report says that 35 million people in India could face annual coastal flooding by 2050 with Mumbai being in the high-risk category for sea-level rise and flooding.
GREAT OPPORTUNITY FOR THE MUSLIM UMMAH
As the IPCC report tells us, the world will certainly breach the 1.5°C and 2°C threshold during this century unless we reverse the process of climate change in the next few decades. However, this reversal looks very unlikely. Take the case of India. We have committed to ensuring that 50% of our energy will come from renewable energy sources by 2030. We also expect to achieve net-zero (carbon) emissions only by 2070. Can India achieve these targets with current economic policies and the obsession to become a five trillion dollar economy?
The Qur’ānic verse – “Corruption has spread on land and sea as a result of what people’s hands have done” (30:41) can be inferred today as referring to the extensive man-made ecological damage that is threatening our very existence.
Calculations show that those who grab 10% of global income are responsible for half of the carbon pollution emitted by households while the top global 1% is responsible for pollution that is 30 times above the sustainable limit for 2030. Together, this group emits as much as the poorest 4.75 billion people in the world.
But this disproportionate share in global carbon footprint is also because of the acquiescence of the world to the diktats of neo-liberal capitalism and its philosophy of consumerism and utility-maximisation driven by enormous debt through a usurious speculative and unstable financial system.
It is time for the Muslim Ummah to take the lead in promoting the alternative worldview of Islam about moderation in saving and consumption. If people change their consumption behaviour and turn “green”, market forces will be forced to alter their business strategies accordingly. Governments will not act until they are forced by the people. The first step is to create a billion-strong team of green-crusaders and biodiversity warriors. The Muslim Ummah is the most qualified to become that team. Islam can become the game-changer for rewriting the code red for humanity.