Climate Change: Point of no Return

By Dr Moses Amweelo

 

IF the world continues to burn coal, oil and gas at alarming rates, it may quickly reach a point of no return for preventing the worst impacts of climate change.

The appetite for burning these dangerous fossil fuels increases, despite years of warnings from climate scientists that continued burning and high levels of carbon dioxide emissions will cause catastrophic climate change. According to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800 000 years. Carbon dioxide concentrations have increased by 40 percent since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30 percent of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification. If the world does not take action to replace coal, oil and gas with renewable energy, it will face a future turned upside down by climate change. The science is very clear that human influence has been detected in the warming of the atmosphere and the ocean; in changes in the global water cycle; in reductions in snow and ice; in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. Greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are warming the Earth and causing changes in the global climate. These changes are having increasingly severe human, economic and environmental impacts and will continue to do so over the coming decades.

The Kyoto Protocol is a first step towards limiting greenhouse gas emissions, but to stop global warming from reaching dangerous levels Kyoto needs to be succeeded by a stronger United Nations agreement involving climate action by all major economies. It has been agreed that this framework will be adopted by 2015 and take effect from 2020. Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer. As the earth warms, currently wet regions are expected to receive more rainfall, and dry regions to receive less, although there may be regional variations. As the ocean warms and glaciers and ice sheets reduce, the global mean sea level will continue to rise, but at a faster rate than experienced over the past 40 years. The Durban agreement of 2011 opened a new phase of the international negotiations that was just as important as that of the 1992 Rio Conference and the Kyoto Protocol. Last year’s conference in Doha allowed the finalization of the means of implementation for the second period of commitment in the framework of the Kyoto Protocol for the 2013-2020 period. The negotiations are nevertheless currently suffering from the heavy legacy of unresolved issues and subjects that have been endlessly put off.

This has fed frustration, particularly in the developing countries, and has made it increasingly difficult to meet the objective of 2 degrees. These difficulties will need to be overcome in the future, if we are to move forward. The 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) to the UNFCCC and the 9th Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP), which was held on 11-12 November 2013 in Warsaw, were therefore part of an international agenda to shake up the priorities. Warsaw has set a pathway for governments to work on a draft text of a new universal climate agreement so it appears on the table at the next UN Climate change conference next year, which will take place in Peru. In the context of 2015, countries decided to initiate or intensify domestic preparation for their intended national contributions towards that agreement, which will come into force from 2020. Parties ready to do this will submit clear and transparent plans well in advance of COP 21, in Paris, and by the first quarter of 2015. The Warsaw meeting also resulted in concrete announcements of forthcoming contributions of public climate finance to support developing countries’ action.

Meanwhile, the Green Climate Fund Board is to commence its initial resource mobilization process as soon as possible and developed countries were asked for ambitious, timely contributions by COP 20 in December next year to enable an effective operationalization. The question is what can we do in order to reduce the impact of climate change? Governments need to introduce policy on climate change and guidance for the development and implementation. Namibia has developed national climate change policies, strategies and as well as action plans to both adapt to and mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change. One of the areas we need to consider the most is deforestation and forest degradation, because it accounts for around 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing these emissions through the conservation and restoration of forests is critical for efforts to mitigate climate change. REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation plus enhancing forest carbon stocks) was introduced as a fresh, new approach to forest protection. It set out to create a system whereby forest users would receive financial incentives to conserve, restore and sustainably manage forest resources. Today’s agreements include a significant set of decisions on ways to help developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and the degradation of forests, which account for around one fifth of all human-generated emissions. The Warsaw Framework for REDD+ is backed by pledges of US$280 million financing from the U.S., Norway and the UK. President Korolec said: “I am proud of this concrete accomplishment. We are all aware of the central role that forests play as carbon sinks, climate stabilizers and biodiversity havens. Through our negotiations we have made a significant contribution to forest preservation and sustainable use, which will benefit the people who live in and around ¡them and humanity and the planet as a whole. And I am proud that this instrument was named the Warsaw Framework for REDD+.” Much more needs to be done over the coming two years to achieve the ambitious agreement necessary to keep the global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. To further increase global ambition and advance concrete climate action, the Secretary-General looks forward to hosting a Climate Summit in September 2014. He has asked world leaders, as well as leaders from business, finance, local government and civil society, to bring bold announcements and actions that will lead to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and strengthened adaptation and resilience efforts.

*Dr Moses Amweelo is a former Minister of Works and Transport and currently a Swapo Party MP. 

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