Climate change and environmental degradation are no longer topics reserved only for liberal arts graduates and hipsters. It has become mainstream and essential for our future. The consequences of our urbanisation, transportation, and agriculture are creating problems around the world. We have more and more extreme events during the year, from record high-temperatures to floodings and droughts. Over the last year, we have witnessed the potential a world crisis such as the pandemic can have on humanity. Only our joint efforts and response can solve, or at least manage, a worldwide problem. One of those is climate change. But before that, we have to recover from the COVID pandemic that hit us. At the start of her mandate, the President of the EC, Ursula von der Leyen, stated that Europe should become the first climate-neutral continent in the world. That promise was reaffirmed at the end of last year. The EU once again committed itself to a green recovery, but will that be enough?
It’s not about the Earth crisis; it’s about the humanitarian crisis. The earth will be just fine without people. But even when we talk about climate change and global warming, we don’t see how important it is for us to react quickly. On the one hand, the economy is something we are confronted with on a daily basis, while on the other, climate change and rising sea levels look as if they are far in the future. However, the latest reports say that the Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass by about 148 billion tons of ice per year. The sea level rose about twenty centimeters in the last century, and it is accelerating every year. Net emissions of greenhouse gases are too high these days, and it’s unsustainable. In just the next couple of decades, we will also have an unimaginable scale of climate migration. In the first half of 2020 alone, disasters displaced 9.8 million people and remained the leading trigger of new internal displacements globally. In the most extreme climate scenarios, according to the model made by The New York Times Magazine, ProPublica, and the Pulitzer Center, more than 30 million migrants will head towards the US border over the next 30 years. Predictions for climate refugees from North Africa and South Asia are also very troubling and worrying. The storm in India in 2020 triggered about 2.4 million new displacements. Of these, about 818,000 were pre-emptive evacuations. About 2.5 million people were displaced in neighboring Bangladesh. On top of that, the pandemic broke out when a record 50.8 million people were living in internal displacement, making the situation even harder.
An estimated one billion people live on land that is less than ten meters above current high tide levels (for 230 million individuals, it’s less than one meter), making them especially vulnerable to sea-level rise, extreme weather, and other potential consequences of global climate change. Climate change is predicted to result in more droughts, floods, heatwaves, and other extreme weather, as well as more intense storms and rising sea levels. Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told The Guardian that these effects are likely to render agriculture more difficult, if not impossible, across swathes of the globe, including sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. That means that we will have millions of people who will be unable to live in these regions anymore, making them potential climate refugees.
AT LEAST WE HAVE MATURED
Results of The Peoples’ Climate Vote (UNDP), the world’s most extensive survey ever of public opinion on climate change, were published in January 2021. The survey covered fifty countries with over half of the world’s population. It showed that 64% of people said that climate change was an emergency – presenting a clear and convincing call for decision-makers to pursue the ambition. People backed renewable energy in eight of the ten survey countries with the highest emissions from the electricity/ heating sectors, including the United States (65%), the biggest emitter surveyed, as well as Australia (76%), Canada (73%), Germany (71%), South Africa (69%), Japan (68%), Poland (57%), and Russia (51%). Unfortunately, the survey also showed that less-educated regions in the world worry less about the impacts of climate change. One interesting survey conducted by the European Investment Bank revealed that 66% of Europeans think that the European Union is at the forefront of the fight against climate change. This compares to 90% of Chinese citizens who believe China leads and 49% of Americans think the US does. But no matter where they live, people have expectations for stricter pro-climate policy everywhere. In fact, a majority of Europeans (57%) say that the economic recovery must take climate into account. They believe their government should promote low-carbon and climate-resilient growth.
Green New Deal VS Green New World
According to Reuters, the EU’s recovery deal foresees a 550 billion euro investment into climate over 2021-27 – a massive sum, but far below the 2.4 trillion euros in investment researchers say is needed to meet EU climate goals. The EU, its Member States (including the UK), and the European Investment Bank are the most significant contributors of public climate finance to developing countries, providing €23.2 billion in 2019. But $300 billion is needed to stop the rise in greenhouse gases and buy up to twenty years of time to fix global warming, according to United Nations climate scientists. The good news is that the EU is actively assisting the The Green Climate Fund (GCF) – a critical element of the historic Paris Agreement, in order to help developing countries mitigate carbon emissions and climate-resilient pathways. The EU is by far the leader in creating a green continent and will most likely become climate-neutral by the middle of the century. However, in order to be an international green leader, it must step up its game and take on more responsibilities. The EU must help others, especially countries in Africa and South Asia, not just because it would be humane to do so, but also because climate refugees could cause huge political problems, as we already saw with the Syrian crisis. We should always bear in mind the lessons we learned through the ongoing pandemic that issues do not stop at our borders.
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van den Broeke, M., van Wessem, M., Wiese, D. (2020). Continuity of ice sheet mass loss in Greenland and Antarctica from the GRACE and GRACE Follow‐On missions. Geophysical Research Letters (Volume 47, Issue 8, 28 April 2020, e2020GL087291.
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