We are all aware of the recent Paris Attacks by ISIS that resulted in a massacre. At least 89 people were killed inside the Bataclan concert hall, while at least 29 died at three restaurants. More than 350 were injured and many remain in hospitals. Although we are still shocked, we do hope that Paris will soon recover and become again the city that Ernest Hemingway describes like this “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” But there is another good reason to think on Paris and this is the upcoming COP on Climate Change. And I have a very clear message about it.
Climate change is going as alarming as the Paris Attacks.
Well, allow me to say something in a very clear way. What we have to do, right here, right now, is to react in a red alarm that is becoming louder and louder, day-by-day. All the recent scientific facts confirm that this is a full-blown crisis. Let me recap some of the ones I went through this summer, with the valuable help of Jeremy Grantham and his great GMO Newsletter.
Visible changes in the climate have been accelerated; many more records than normal of droughts, floods, and, most particularly, heat have been achieved. Last year was the hottest year ever recorded, and this year, 2015, helped by an El Niño, has gotten off to a dreadful start. This year, global average surface temperatures are likely to reach 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), above preindustrial temperatures for the first time, according to the UK Met Office. This puts the world halfway to the internationally agreed warming target of 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Other data, also recently released, shows that 2016 will be the first year in all of human history when the amount of carbon dioxide in the air meets or exceeds 400 parts per million for the entire year. As of 2014, that annual figure was 397.7 parts per million, which is an astonishing increase of 143% from the level in the air prior to the industrial revolution, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). According to the Met Office, the world has already emitted around two-thirds of the carbon dioxide it can put into the atmosphere to have a likely chance (more than 66% chance) of limiting warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.
The World Wildlife Fund, “Living Planet Report,” published in September, 2014, estimates the disastrous decline in total animal life: in general it has halved in the last 40 years, with bird populations down 40%. The recent report (end of 2014) of the Audubon Society “Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report: A Primer for Practitioners” presents the damage likely to be inflicted on future bird populations by climate change and it highlights that maybe in the next 40-60 years we will have a very limited bird population. The excellent SCIENCE Article, “Marine IceSheet Collapse Potentially Under Way for Thwaites Glacier Basin, WestAntarctica” announces that the Thwaites Glacier4 in the Antarctic has “gone irreversible”. There are also several recent articles that deal with the direct thermodynamic effects of a warming climate, which account for most of the increase in extreme temperature events. In a simplified way they state that climate change may not cause more hurricanes or more droughts, but when they do occur, the higher ocean and air temperatures will guarantee that these events will be worse than they would have been in a lower-temperature world. In a great paper titled “Contrasting futures for ocean and society from differentanthropogenic CO2 emissions scenarios”, published on July 2015, at Science, 22 scientists led by Jean-Pierre Gattuso argue that any new global climate agreement must begin to minimize the mounting toll on the world’s oceans to prevent irreversible damage. They also mention that oceans are not receiving their appropriate share of concern while ocean life is diminishing at the fastest rate since the so-called Great Dying of 250 million years ago. One of the co-authors, professor Hoegh-Guldberg said “There’s compelling evidence that increases in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are already resulting in fundamental changes to the physical, chemical, and biological properties of our planet”.
Last but not least, Andy Lee, in his article on July 2015 "The conflict between demographics and water in the Middle East", puts the water stress in Middle East as a cornerstone of the current and the emerging conflicts. He states “Bloomberg recently reported that water levels on the Euphrates River that flows from Eastern Turkey through Syria to Iraq have fallen more than 50% this year, withering farmers’ crops and raising the risk of a wider regional conflict. Both Iraq and the Islamic State say that Turkey needs to release more water from its dams to replenish the river in the former Fertile Crescent where drought conditions now endanger millions. The situation for Iraq has grown even more acute after Islamic State used a dam captured in Ramadi to cut off water to government areas. The situation will only get worse as Turkey is due to complete the last 6 dams in a 22 dam project on the Euphrates and Tigris next year despite Iraqi protests. As the surrounding soils dry out, less water is absorbed into the ground. The Euphrates and Tigris have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss after India according to Chatham House. A NASA study of the two river basins shows stored freshwater water reserves of 144 cubic kilometers, equal to the Dead Sea or 152% of the two countries’ 2008 annual renewable water resources, were lost over the 7 years through 2009. Soils drying up accounted for about 20% of the loss, with surface water from lakes and reservoirs another 20%, and the rest was depleted from underground aquifers. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise. Does this explain some of the fighting in the region, and the low value people put on their own lives? What happens when the aquifers are exhausted as they surely will be in the next few years?”
There is no time left – adaptation and mitigation strategies are going too slow. As many people believe, it seems that we need something like a Marshal Plan for planet Earth. And probably this plan will cost trillions of dollars. But just a minute, let’s think again about the costs. In 2015, the global military expenditures were 1.7 trillion dollars. For the years 2010 – 2015, the global military expenses were roughly 10 trillion dollars! Each year we spent 75-80 billion dollars for cyber security and 70 billion dollars for pet food. And according the Global Subsidies Initiative “Globally, subsidies to fossil fuels may be on the order of US$ 600 billion per year, of which the GSI estimates about US$ 100 billion is provided to producers. Nobody knows the real number, however, because there is no international framework for regularly monitoring fossil-fuel subsidies”.
So, how much money we need to tackle climate change? What will be the cost of a Marshal Plan for Earth? Many different groups converge to something like 150 – 200 billions dollars per year. This is just double of the global spending on pet food! It is less than 10% of the global military spending and 25% of the subsidies given to fossil fuels! Recently, Thomas Piketty proposed a flight tax to raise 150 billion dollars climate funds per year. According his proposal, air travel should be taxed to protect the world’s vulnerable from drought, flooding and sea level rise. A €180 ($196/£130) levy on business class tickets and €20 on economy class would raise the estimated €150bn a year needed for climate adaptation.
I am sure that there are many other creative ways to find the, finally, tiny amount of money required every year. So the problem is not the availability of funds.
The problem is that one-tenth of people are responsible for 45% of global emissions. Sunita Narain, the director of the Indian Centre for Science and Environment, recently said "We must put an end toenvironmental colonialism. Individuals have a right to development, whereverthey are…The problem is that the United States will manage to get their total lack of ambition accepted in the Paris agreement, which means Africa and India will have no room for development". As Piketty recently explained in Guardian "the countries of the North should be convinced to finance more adaptation. Climate change adaptation funds currently stand at $10 billion, while the United Nations Environment Programme estimates the need at 200 times this amount". Piketty recalled the fact that the media always present the United States and China as the biggest emitters, responsible for 42% of global CO2 emissions, with Europe far behind at only 10%."But if you factor in the emissions of products consumed, Europe's CO2 emissions are closer to those of the US and China," the economist insisted. Under this calculation, the EU emits 16% of the global total, compared to 21% for both China and the United States.
I find no better way to close this note with some words written by Naomi Klein, in her emblematic book “This changes everything”. “Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings. The cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions that scientists tell us are necessary in order to greatly reduce the risk of catastrophe are treated as nothing more than gentle suggestions, actions that can be put off pretty much indefinitely. Clearly, what gets declared a crisis is an expression of power and priorities as much as hard facts. But we need not be spectators in all this: politicians aren’t the only ones with the power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too…I am convinced that climate change represents a historic opportunity on an even greater scale. As part of the project of getting our emissions down to the levels many scientists recommend, we once again have the chance to advance policies that dramatically improve lives, close the gap between rich and poor, create huge numbers of good jobs, and reinvigorate democracy from the ground up. But before any of these changes can happen – before we can believe that climate change can change us – we first have to stop looking away”