Climate change and COP21: Are we missing the essence?

Paris COP 21, CMP 11 (PHOTO: ClimateReporters/Atâyi Babs)
Paris COP 21, CMP 11 (PHOTO: ClimateReporters/Atâyi Babs)

By Dr. Oliver Chinedu Ujah

In about 6 months from now, the world will gather again in COP21 (The 21st session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in France in a desperate attempt to save the world from the catastrophic tendencies of climate change.

Parties (various countries) signed up to both the UNFCC and The Kyoto Protocol are expected to sign a new agreement with the objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. In Paris, the expected agreement to be signed will derive from the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) and will take effect by 2020.

Unfortunately, evidence of rapid climate change is still compelling and worrying even after twenty sessions of discussions, negotiations and agreements. According to satellite data from NASA, the global sea level rise increased by 3.19mm per year from January 1993 to January 2015; carbon dioxide levels increased from 378.21 ppm in January 2005 to 400.06 ppm in March 2015; global annual mean temperature increased from 0.06oC in 1969 to 0.68oC in 2014; September Arctic sea ice minimum declined 13.3% per decade between 1980 and 2014; land ice is shrinking – Antarctica has been losing about 147 billion metric tons of ice per year since 2003 and an estimated 258 billion metric tons of Greenland ice sheet has been lost every year since 2002; etc.

An iconic symbol of the shrinking ice sheets is the polar bear. Little wonder then why the bears recently organized a conference to address the climate changes threatening their livelihoods and survival. The conference was aimed at finding a sustainable solution to the identified threats. They observed with dismay that the sea ice which they rely on for reaching seal prey is rapidly diminishing due to a warming earth, affecting the entire arctic ecosystem.

Moreover, the bears admitted that they are experiencing reduced access to food, drop in their body condition, lower cub survival rates, increase in cannibalism, increase in the incidence of drowning and loss of access to denning areas. In addition, the bears were outraged with the fact that even scientists are predicting that as Arctic continues to warm, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could disappear within this century.

Following this bleak future and having concluded that the situation and solution is beyond their capability, they resolved that they would need to reach out to the rest of humanity to find answers and sustainable solutions to these life threatening problems. So, they sent out emissaries to the continents of the world. Just as the conference was about to be closed, they received a stunning report that about 40% of the population of polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea has been lost.

Their sources equally informed them that human beings are largely responsible for the warming climate.

So, the three-bear team set out on a journey around the globe to look for help and solutions. As they flew across the globe they could see that all regions of the globe are affected by climate change at in one way or the other at various scales – some in terms of extreme weather or environmental events and others in the form of beyond-normal and almost irreversible environmental changes.

They could see some areas with extreme flooding, some with extreme dryness, areas with degradation and high incidence of diseases and livelihood threat, climate induced migration, erosion, conflicts (between man and man, & man and other creatures) arising from diminishing environmental resources, etc. They were really surprised to see that man and other species are not spared the negative consequences of climate change. They pitied the human race. Just as they were about to concluding their reconnaissance flight, they discovered two things that caught them spellbound.

The first was the island nation of Maldives – the lowest country on the planet with an average ground level of 1.5 meters above sea level. They could observe a cluster of islands at the brink of being swallowed up in the sea due to rising sea levels and increasing sea acidity. They could also perceive a nation whose survival is predicated on the actions of the rest of the world. They wondered if such a vulnerable nation could exist beyond the end of this century.

The second was the CO2 emissions coming from various continents. The three-bear team perceived clearly the emission data as compiled by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in 2011. They could perceive that out of the total 47,457.2 metric tons of CO2 (including land use change and forestry) emitted, Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for about 7%, about 15% for North America, about 7% for Middle East and North Africa, about 9% for Latin America and the Caribbean, about 15% for Europe and Asia accounted for about 47%. It was difficult for the trio to understand why man should be self-destructing. Satisfied with the information they have gathered so far, they decided to descend to these continents to dialogue.

As the three-bear team crisscrossed the continents, they were confronted with accusations and counter accusations of who to blame for the greenhouse gas emissions. The vibes they got from developing nations across the continents was that the developed world should be held responsible for warming the earth since they started decades earlier in polluting their way to prosperity.

They insisted that the developed world should shoulder the burden of cutting greenhouse gases. On the other hand, the developed nations pointed the finger at some giant developing countries that are furiously burning solid minerals to power their rapid growth. Given the divisive position of humanity on this issue, the trio decided to return to their world and report back to fellow bears.

The three-bear team was welcomed back with a lot of enthusiasm and hope. As they settle down to listen to their feedback, the team leader broke down in tears and with a heavy heart pronounced that their mission failed as they were unable to find a solution to their environmental calamities.

However, he was quick to inform and assure his kindred that there is still an opportunity for them to take their case to humanity during the Conference of Parties in Paris later this year. They reasoned that they needed to participate actively in COP21 in order to push for the understanding, commitment, urgent and immediate actions by all attending parties in stagnating emissions and implementing a greener and more sustainable development.

Noting that man and all the inhabitants of the earth would benefit from a no-warming world, they resolved that they will advise humanity thus:

Do not delay actions to stagnate and reverse emissions. Procrastinating or encouraging the procrastination of actions on targets is not proactive because climate warming acts like a performance-enhancing drug on global climate system as it makes extreme events more likely and more damaging.

These talks should be about humanity and being your neighbours’ keeper. It’s not about politics. It’s not about economics. It is and should be about humanomics (economics and politics of Humanity). The world is missing the opportunity of greening its development if it continues to dwell on the irrelevant issues of buck-passing on the culprits of climate warming.

Parties should encourage and support industries and enterprises within their localities to immediately switch to climate-friendly operations and production systems. Enterprises or industries owe the world such corporate human responsibility (CHR).

Finally, all parties should commit and agree to eliminate all greenhouse emissions immediately. This will promote significant synergistic and positive impact on reversing greenhouse emission in the next few years. Parties should emulate the example of Maldives in this direction.

Dr Ujah, an Executive Director with Pan-African Intergovernmental Agency on Water and Sanitation for Africa (WSA), writes from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso


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