Saving Earth’s Habitability

Hira Bahadur Thapa


With constant rise of global temperatures scientists are expressing serious concerns about the habitability of earth. As global warming increases the risks to humanity too goes up. Unless the countries around the world drastically reduce the level of carbon emissions our earth will become inhabitable sooner than predicted earlier.
Climate change has the broadest and longest-lasting effects. It has been found that carbon emissions arising from burning fossils account for an estimated 60 per cent of our ecological footprint. China, US, and Japan are the top ranking emitters of carbon. Among them the US becomes by far the biggest per capita emitter. Ironically, the present US administration has been denying the findings of climate science. It has decided to abandon the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which loosely binds the signatories to cut down the carbon emissions level.
As more research is carried out in the field of climate change, new but worrisome revelations are emerging. The threshold of limiting the temperature rise to 2 degree Celsius is being challenged. Scientists now insist that the limit of such rise in temperature should be 1.5 degree Celsius to avoid environmental devastation.
In one of the research findings carried out by Dr. Raphael Neukom of Bern University it has been suggested that the warming rate of earth is exceedingly higher in the 20th century. This extraordinary nature of present warming is a bad omen because disasters will likely occur more quickly. The researchers have described the present rate of global warming as unparalleled in the last two centuries. Their conclusions in this regard question the validity of climate sceptics’ arguments.
In course of research the scientists are presenting comparative study of current global warming taking into account the epochal changes in temperatures as observed at different periods of human history. Their survey demonstrates very interesting results, which analysed properly can provide us valuable lessons in our present fight against climate change.
The most interesting feature of changing weather patterns in the past was that the change did not occur on a global scale. Recent research in the field of climate change provides the fact that different regions of the earth experienced varying climatic patterns at different periods of time. For example the Little Ice Age was its strongest in the Pacific Ocean in the 15th century but the same weather conditions prevailed in the continent of Europe only two centuries later. As opined by climatologists any long term peaks or troughs in temperature could be seen in no more than half of the globe at any one time.
In earth’s climatic history as evidenced by scientific research the Medieval Warm Period, which occurred between AD 950-AD 1250, only saw significant temperature rises across 40 per cent of the earth’s surface. To the contrary today’s temperature rise impacts the vast majority of the global population. One research reveals that the warmest period of the past two thousand years was detected in the 20th century. Worryingly the warming covered 98% of the planet, which is unique compared to the past.
Therefore, professor Raphael Neukom of Bern University based on his latest research on the subject concludes that the present warming rate clearly exceeds the natural warming rates. Global temperatures have been rising in conformity with the pace of rapid industrialisation. As industrial progress advances carbon emissions solely responsible for greenhouse gases, accumulate more in the atmosphere pushing warming level higher. The scientists uniformly argue that today’s global warming owes much to human-induced activities. There is truly stark difference between regional and localised changes in climate of the past, when global effect of anthropogenic greenhouse gases was rarely felt.
Notwithstanding the empirical evidence presented by scientific research, some world leaders and US President Trump in particular, have been ignoring the human factor behind climate change. The climate change crisis is much likely to invite more catastrophes unless addressed in time for which global endeavours are warranted. In the words of UN Secretary-General to shirk from responsibility to reduce carbon emissions is akin to immoral activity.
In the opinion of Javier Solana, a former foreign minister of Spain, climate crisis proves that social and natural dynamics are increasingly linked. In his recent Project-Syndicate essay entitled “New Direction for Planet’s Sake”, he draws our attention to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that underscores the need to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial level during this century. But the dilemma is that a group of fossil fuel producers are resisting this and the Trump administration is supporting them.
Accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme droughts and floods in some regions with Nepal being no more exception. The Himalayas looking less white with decreasing layer of snow is definitely the symptom of climate change. More variable seasonal rains and monsoons are other signs of climate change. With so less generation of carbon emissions due to lack of industrialisation, Nepal has had to bear the brunt of global warming, which is quite unfair.
A report in the Economist (May 19, 2019) states that environmental stress plays a role in regional conflicts and as weather becomes more erratic because of rising temperatures such conflicts may rise in future. Climate inaction is by far the most costly alternative and so UN Climate Summit in September may be another chance for the world leaders to reduce the level of carbon emissions before our planet is rendered inhabitable.
(Thapa was Foreign Relations Advisor to the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2009. He writes on contemporary national and international issues.) 

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