A protester at a demonstration of the environmental organisation Greenpeace in Bonn, Germany, recently. (AFP PIC)

SCIENTISTS say, despite knowing enough about climate change, humankind is failing to turn the tide on climate change and the window of opportunity is fast closing. The sooner politicians listen to science, the faster they can commit to cutting global carbon emissions.

As global leaders gather for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23), which opened last week, the need to raise global ambitions to cut carbon emissions and put the world on a cleaner, more sustainable path, has never been more urgent. Climate change projections point to more extreme weather, rising temperatures, droughts and floods. Seas and oceans — our biggest lungs — are warming and reaching a saturation point in their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.

Are the impacts of climate change witnessed now motivation enough for our politicians to do something?

Hans-Otto Portner, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) working group II and head of research section in ecosystems physiology at the Alfred Wegener Institute expects the current round of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations to show to what extent extreme events have changed the mentality of policymakers. Should we expect a radical shift in climate change positions at COP23?

There is no shortage of political pressure for more ambitious actions on reducing carbon emissions and addressing climate change. However, there are also attention-grabbing deniers like United States President Donald Trump, who has triggered the process for the US to exit the Paris Agreement.

Under the climate change agreement in 2015, global leaders committed to lower carbon emissions and cap global temperature rise at 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

They pledged to ensure a lower 1.5°C of warming to keep the Earth sustainable for life. Scientists worry that the reduction targets are not ambitious enough.

With the start of the 6th IPCC assessment cycle, pressure is on to validate the Paris Agreement at whose core is the world’s ability to adapt and reduce impacts of climate change.

Acknowledging that defining climate change thresholds remains a challenge, Portner said all countries need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions drastically by the middle of this century if Paris Agreement targets are to be reached.

A recent report by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington-based research group, says more than 55 countries— accounting for 60 percent of global emissions — have committed to peaking their emissions by 2030.

While this is good, global emissions need to peak by 2020 to prevent dangerous warming levels, the report says.

Acting as a gigantic carbon sink, oceans take up about a third of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by human activities. However, when absorbed by seawater, the greenhouse gas triggers chemical reactions, causing the ocean to acidify, scientists say. While on the one hand, the ocean’s CO2 uptake slows down global climate change on the other, this absorption affects the life and material cycles of the ocean and those who depend on it.

The German research network, Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification (Bioacid) has concluded an eight-year extensive research on ocean acidification involving a team of more than 250 scientists from 20 German institutions.

The research indicates that ocean acidification, warming and other environmental conditions are impairing ocean life and compromising ecosystem services provided by oceans.

Research by the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel shows that ocean acidification and warming will affect the availability of fish and global fish stocks. Besides, over fishing is already a global problem, though it is unevenly distributed.

Fish are the primary source of protein for one billion people globally, especially in developing countries. The loss of coral reefs that provide habitat and coastal protection will affect aquaculture and fish harvests.

But change is hard as it is slow. According to Bioacid, to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle and economy, political influence is needed in regulating the phase out of fossil fuels.

According to Felix Ekardt, director of the Research Unit Sustainability and Climate Policy in Leipzig, fossil fuels are the main source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and air pollution, which a landmark study this year says kills nine million people, more than those killed by war, AIDS, hunger and malaria combined.

“Both (GHG and air pollution) are not only drivers of climate change, but also cause ocean acidification,” Ekardt said.

“Knowledge of natural scientific facts on sea and climate alone, however, does not trigger sufficient motivation in society, businesses and politics to reduce their emissions. The emissions-intensive lifestyle in industrialised and developing countries has to be put on the spot.”

Arguing that shifting problems would not solve them, he said ocean acidification and climate change were prime examples of global problems. Bioacid research calls for inducing a fast phase-out of fossil fuels as one of the options for effective ocean acidification policies.

Gebru Jember Endalew, chair of the least developed countries (LDC) group, calls COP23 a vital step to set a rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

He bemoaned that LDCs and other developing countries cannot take ambitious actions to address climate change or protect themselves against its impacts, unless all countries outdo the pledges on the table. -- IPS

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