Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - People must force change in climate change agenda

People must force change in climate change agenda

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Environmental activists and supporters take part in a demonstration calling for action against climate change, in Bangalore in November. AFP

People must force change in climate change agenda

As a result of climate change, hurricanes are more powerful than in the past. Floods cover vast regions, causing people to lose their homes.

The catastrophic bushfires raging across much of Australia that have swept large parts of the continent since October, leaving more than 20 people dead, destroying thousands of homes and devastating wildlife are further proof of global warming and a clear sign of unsustainable development. This type of development in the name of progress cannot meet the needs of the present.

Moreover, it will simply destroy the basic requirements of future generations. Droughts cause crops to die, which means people go hungry. The sea level is rising, and will one day swallow up entire countries. To confront this problem in which the stakes are high and solutions can be blocked by collective action problems, leadership is essential.

Leadership can only make a decisive difference by providing a model that encourages others to follow. There is another serious aspect – that leadership has the potential not only to unite, but also to divide public opinion over this issue. In the absence of political consensus within countries, the implementation of policy to effectively address climate change is bound to be weakened.

Influence of many political leaders in confronting this acute global problem is sometimes contradictory to climate change needs. Scientists have pointed out that climate change caused a greater number of violent storms than usual, including 70 tropical cyclones in the northern hemisphere, compared with the longterm average of 53.

Storms brought devastation to the Mariana Islands, the Philippines, Vietnam, the Korean peninsula and Tonga, while hurricanes Florence and Michael caused substantial damage in the US. Wildfires also raged in Greece, Canada, California and other areas, while floods devastated Kerala in India and displaced more than 1.4 million people. Japan also experienced serious flooding, as did east Africa.

The record-high heat waves, record-low Arctic sea ice, above average tropical cyclones and deadly wildfires are the results of climate change. It is pertinent to mention that the African savannah, the Australian bush or the US conifer forests have faced fires over many thousands of years.

But the plants and animals living in the Amazon do not have the traits needed to survive a big fire and regenerate after the blaze. This is because fires were not very common before humans settled in the area. In addition to these, countries – particularly island nations – are most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change because they are losing land to rising seas. Since the world has witnessed more and more such devastation, we are the last generation to be able to do something about it.

Climate-change denial

Unfortunately many political leaders contribute to distrust in climate science and other environmental sciences though we are in the midst of a climate crisis. The meteorological report spells out the worsening threat with startling clarity.

Despite the devastation, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison practically ignored the linkage of the fire with the impact of climate change and said fires were nothing new for Australia though the blaze reached new dimensions. He also declared he would not write off the jobs of thousands of Australians by walking away from traditional industries.

The International Panel on Climate Change concluded more than a decade ago that human-caused global heating was “virtually certain” to increase the intensity and frequency of fires in Australia.

Average temperature rises in Australia were about 1.4C above pre-industrial levels before this season’s fires, showing a more rapid rate of heating than the global average of 1.1C. The total area burned stood at more than 10.7 million hectares as of January 8. Smoke plumes posed a significant health threat even to those living kilometres away, as the wind carried heavily polluted air to Sydney and Canberra, and as far as New Zealand. Meanwhile, scientists fear that when rain does fall, it may taint drinking supplies in cities and kill more wildlife by washing charred debris into rivers.

The habitat of the endangered southern brown bandicoot has been obliterated by fire on Kangaroo Island. It is one of many Australian species whose survival has been further threatened by this summer’s bushfires. The full effects of these fires will not be felt for months or years to come, but it will certainly cause the extinction for some of Australia’s most iconic, fragile and beautiful inhabitants on account of habitat loss and non-availability of food. With reference to the Amazon, it is pertinent to mention that deforestation to make room for crops and cattle grazing have contributed to this year’s devastating fires.

The trees in the Amazon basin have relatively thin barks, so during a fire, the heat can seriously damage the cells inside the tree, which eventually kills it. Previous research in the Amazon has found that more than 40 per cent of trees die up to three years after a fire.

This means that the carbon stored in their trunks, branches and leaves is released into the atmosphere, either while the fire is raging, or later as dead trees decompose. This piquant situation arises because the new Brazilian government does not intend to honour commitments made in the Paris agreement. Similarly US President Donald Trump says that this science is wrong and that nothing needs to change – indeed forests must be felled and fossil fuels be further subsidised and promoted as “clean coal”.

In 2017, the Trump administration began pulling the US (one of the world’s leading carbon emittors) out of the landmark Paris agreement of 2015 with a comment that the accord was an unfair economic burden on the US economy. However he has realised the necessity of clean water and clean air. For this he emphasised on massive tree plantation in America but this approach can not be the alternative to forests. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman do not deny the science but coldly calculate how much they would lose and try to water down commitments.

Chile has committed to 30 per cent reduction in CHG emission below what they were in 2007. But between 1990 and 2016, Chile’s emission increased by 115 per cent which shows the country has a poor history of tackling climate change. India is the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China, the US, and the EU. In 2018, carbon emissions rose worldwide, primarily due to increased coal consumption in China and India. Although both countries signed the 2015 Paris Agreement, they continue to rely on coal as an important source of energy.

Civic engagement

This poses a problem for climate change. Sadly climate issues in Indian elections were not prominent, though citizens are demanding climate action. The good news is that governments both at the Centre and in states have started talking about climate issues. But what India thinks about climate change is not adequate considering its extreme vulnerability with reference to changed monsoon patterns, higher incidents of heat waves, drought, migration, and so on. These examples show that political leaders in many countries are not taking climate change seriously .

Many countries are also not doing enough. Unfortunately corporate influence on the climate change debate and policy process has at many levels been cited as a key reason for the relatively slow progress of both the UN COP process and national-level climate legislation. The lesson here is very simple – climate change must be our number one priority because of regular occurrence of floods, fires, drought, heat stress, species loss, sea level rise, ecological change and many more. Our great satisfaction is that these effects could shake the people all over the world and even ordinary people are now discussing it.

It can be strongly recommended that people who vote in elections should consider voting for parties that promise strong action on climate change. Another option is to support global movements organised by many climate activists. By turning up at rallies and showing support for groups, we can send a strong message to politicians that we care about the planet and all the life on it. Also a legal challenge can make politicians understand the extent of the passions running through people. If we send these messages to politicians, there’s a chance to make them work harder before the worst effects of global warming become a reality.

Debapriya Mukherjee is former senior scientist at the Central Pollution Control Board of India.

THE STATESMAN (INDIA)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Koh Rong land ‘belongs to firm’

    Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration spokesperson Kheang Phearum told The Post on Sunday that the 35ha being bulldozed by Royal Group Co Ltd in Koh Rong belongs to it after it was leased to it for 99 years by the government in 2008. Phearum said the land does

  • Nine on Indonesia flight Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health on Saturday confirmed nine more imported cases of Covid-19. The nine ‒ eight Cambodians and one Indonesian, aged 22 to 26 ‒ arrived in Cambodia on Thursday via a direct flight from Indonesia and are receiving treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hostipal in Phnom Penh.

  • Kingdom’s financial sector healthy

    Cambodia's financial sector remains on a sustainable growth path despite the Covid-19 pandemic squeezing crucial industries, National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) governor Chea Chanto said. Tourism, garments and footwear have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 impact, he said, whereas the financial and agriculture sectors

  • Vietnam told to remove border tents

    Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophoan has ordered local authorities to prohibit the construction of buildings in areas bordering Cambodia and to report any irregularities immediately. Recently, Vietnamese officials removed another seven tents from the border area with Cambodia. His remarks were made on Wednesday afternoon