To most of us, global warming has always appeared to be a very vague phenomenon. It is something which appears as the headlines every now and then, we just happen to glance at it and it slips out of our minds within minutes because, after all, it doesn’t affect us.

Does it?

This week, while the whole world has been debating about the President-elect of the U.S. and his policies, there have been discussions between various nations about the CO2 emissions on the rise at the 22nd session of Conference of Parties (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco. The ideal CO2 level in the atmosphere is 250-350 ppm (parts per million) and at present, the CO2 level in the atmosphere is 412 ppm and is increasing at the rate of 3 ppm every year.

But these are just facts and numbers. Let us make Global Warming more personal. Let us see how it affects humans. And let us see how different nations are dealing with this global crisis.

The bad: Climate Change is not a hoax. It’s happening. And it hurts.

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In addition to this, ten of the hottest years ever recorded have all occurred since 1998. And the hottest year was 2015.

Rising sea levels is one of the major concerns, as it will inundate many islands and coastal areas.

Environmental Refugees

Climate change has also brought about an increase in the number and ferocity of natural disasters like droughts, dust storms, floods, hurricanes, wild fires and heat waves. This leads to one of its lesser known but very prevalent effects, that of Environmental Refugees.
One of the hidden costs of climate change, or a result of its effects, is the displacement of millions of people. The existing international refugee scheme is ill-suited for those seeking refuge from environmental disasters. Most of the refugees are barred from entering other countries and this hits the poor nations the hardest. Since 2008, an average of 26.4 million people per year have been displaced by natural disasters, according to an estimate by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. There are now more environmental refugees than war and political refugees combined.

This is going to become a bigger issue in the upcoming years because:

  1. Low-lying island nations may become wholly uninhabitable if sea-levels continue to rise. People in Micronesia, the Caribbean, the Seychelles, Mauritius, and others, may require outright relocation.
  2. Countries like India, Bangladesh, and others, with significant coastal populations can suffice with internal relocation but may need monetary help to carry it out.
  3. The slow-onset of desertification, drought and water shortage, with subsequent food shortage and no economic growth, may lead people to migrate.
  4. Other disasters like typhoons and hurricanes, which are on the rise, warrant the need for temporary shelters for the affected people.

The international refugee schemes need to be modified to account for 150 million environmental refugees by the year 2050 according to research.

2aThe current rate of climate variation is also acting as one of the triggers to what is the earth’s sixth mass extinction also known as the Holocene extinction. The drastic increase temperature and ocean acidification are some of the effects of global warming that species are not able to adapt to.  The expected rate of extinction for vertebrates is nine species in a century. But, in the last century, 428 species of vertebrates have become extinct. By the year 2050, it is predicted that 1,103 species will be extinct. A new study by National Geographic suggests that global warming could be threatening one-fourth of this planet’s species by the end of this century.

There have been five mass extinctions this earth has faced before, but never has it happened that all of the triggers stem from the impact of a single species that arrived on the scene just 200,000 years ago: Homo sapiens.

The good: Putting our best foot forward – Protocols and Treaties

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The Ugly: Politics and Climate change

One major fault in many international agreements on Global Warming is that they are not binding. Many nations fail to follow through on their pledges and withdraw their support midway. For example, consider the U.S. and the Paris Agreement. The U.S., along with China, and 109 other countries ratified the Paris Agreement to curb climate-warming emissions. The pact was put to force in November. Should the U.S., being one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases (second, after China), withdraw from the pact, it will become immensely difficult to limit the temperature growth to below 2 degrees. Most treaties do not have stringent systems and are vague. And while environment friendly alternatives are available and are central to delivering emission reduction targets, they struggle against user practices, industries and institutions which are strictly resistant to change.

There are no credible sanctions for countries that renege on their commitments either. What are the rules for monitoring emissions? Are there any plans for reviewing the commitments? Will developing and least developed countries receive financial support to implement such schemes and survive? Each decision has the potential to lead to a stalemate as power struggles play out between nations and alliances, from the economic giants to small island states.

Even in the national level, politicians fear public resistance to policies necessary to meet the deep emission cuts. The U.S. President-elect plans to kill the Clean Power Plan (aim was to the carbon pollution from power plants, the largest source of greenhouse gas emitters in the US) and withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Countries like Canada are not signatories to the Paris Agreement and have backed out of the Kyoto Protocol too.

And politics comes to play in the refugee crisis too. Since at least the 1951 adoption of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the global migration regime has distinguished between economic migrants, who come to pursue work, and refugees, who flee war and persecution.  Environmental migrants do not fit neatly into either category. And most countries refuse to accommodate this change in their laws due to political reasons. For instance, in advance of the Paris climate summit, Australia helped to scuttle a plan to create a coordination facility for handling climate refugees, even as its Pacific Island neighbours were raising alarms about the impact of rising oceans.

So, as the Marrakech conference comes to an end with nations still thriving to support the Paris agreement, despite many looming doubts, it is yet to be seen how these nations stand by their promises and help curb this crisis.3a

Author: Bipasha Choudhury

Editor: Priyanshi Goyal

Graphics: Himali Tripathi