The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that humans are unequivocally warming the planet, triggering rapid changes in the atmosphere, oceans and polar regions, and increasing extreme weather conditions around the world.
The IPCC released the Sixth Assessment Report on August 9, 2021. The report by 234 scientists around the world summarized current climate research on how the Earth is changing as temperatures rise and impacts for the future. I was one of those scientists.
The facts about climate change have long been clear, and the evidence continues to mount. The warning signs of climate change have been clear over the past decade, with each new emergency surpassing its previous one.
The earth as we know it has been radically altered by our improper use of fossil fuels and natural resources. Our lives and livelihoods risk forever suffering the consequences of our own actions.
Global temperatures are rising, causing more droughts and forest fires, increasing the intensity of storms, causing catastrophic flooding and raising sea levels.
Rising sea levels increase the vulnerability of cities and associated infrastructure that line many of the world’s coasts due to flooding, erosion, destruction of coastal ecosystems, and contamination of surface and groundwater.
Future sea level rise will affect all coastal nations. But over the next few decades, the biggest effects will be felt in Asia, due to the number of people living in the low-lying coastal areas of the continent. Mainland China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand are home to the largest number of people living on earth, which are expected to be below average annual coastal flood levels by 2050. Together, these six countries represent about 75% of the 300 million people living on earth. facing the same vulnerability in the middle of the century.
Global sea level is rising at a rate unmatched for at least thousands of years.
Global sea level is rising primarily because global temperatures are rising, causing ocean water to expand and land ice to melt. About a third of its current increase comes from thermal expansion – when water increases in volume as it warms. The rest comes from melting ice on land.
In the 20th century, the melting was mainly limited to mountain glaciers, but the big concern for the future is the melting of the giant ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica. If all of Greenland’s ice melted, global sea level would rise by seven meters.
Antarctica is the existential threat to coastal nations. It’s twice the size of Australia (over 20,000 times the size of Singapore!), Two to three kilometers thick, and has enough water to raise the sea level by 65 meters. It is more than the height of the Singapore Art Science Museum and the Super Tree of Gardens by the Bay. If only a few percent of the Antarctic ice sheet melted, it would have devastating effects.
Worryingly, satellite measurements of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps show that this melting is accelerating. Greenland is now the biggest contributor to sea level rise in the world. Greenland went from around 51 billion tonnes of ocean ice between 1980 and 1990 to a loss of 286 billion tonnes between 2010 and 2018.
That’s a staggering 76 trillion gallons of water added to the ocean each year, which equals 114 million Olympic swimming pools.
The rise in sea level until 2050 is fixed. Regardless of how quickly nations can reduce their emissions, the world envisions sea level rise of about 6 to 12 inches through mid-century due to the long-term response of oceans and ice caps. glacial warming. Sea level rise is expected to continue slowly for centuries, even in a stable climate. This so-called “commitment to sea level rise” leads to a long term obligation to adapt to sea level rise, which coastal policy and practice is only now beginning to recognize. .
Beyond 2050, sea level rise becomes increasingly sensitive to global choices in terms of emissions. If countries choose to continue on their current trajectory, greenhouse gas emissions are likely to cause 3-4 ° C warming by 2100 and sea level rise of up to 1m.
In the most extreme emissions scenario, a rapid loss of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet is possible, causing sea level to rise nearly 2m by the end of this century. At this point, sea level rise is not an existential threat but a reality for coastal countries like Singapore.
But there is hope for surviving the sea level rise.
The IPCC report showed a growing understanding of the causes of climate change and their solutions.
A world that is 2 ° C warmer, under the Paris Agreement, would see sea levels drop, likely by about half a meter by 2100.
Moreover, if the more the world limits its greenhouse gas emissions, the risk of causing a rapid loss of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet is much lower.
But time is running out to meet the ambitious goal set in the Paris Agreement of limiting warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
We need to hold our elected officials accountable for the promises they made on climate change. Indeed, we could demand reductions much greater than those promised by countries in the run-up to COP26, the United Nations climate summit to be held in Glasgow in November.
Fortunately, attitudes around the world towards climate change have changed over the past decade. Where there was once ignorance, inattention and disbelief about climate change, now there is worry.
Individually, rather than depriving ourselves, we should instead add to our lives to help fight the climate emergency. These can include things like volunteering, activism, and educating others about the effects climate change can have on our lives. All of these positive solutions, coupled with the attempt to live a more sustainable life, can make all the difference.
Technological advances are also a source of hope. Solar and wind power and battery technology are now much cheaper, and their efficiency is improving more and more. New technologies, including artificial intelligence, now also offer the prospect of dramatic improvements in the energy efficiency of transportation systems, construction operations, manufacturing processes and food production.
Ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere also offer hope, not only of achieving net zero, but of eventually reversing climate change.
The world’s oceans, forests and grasslands take up huge amounts of carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, much of which is stored in plants or soil, creating important global carbon sinks.
By preserving and expanding forests, these sinks could be enlarged. Taking better care of the oceans and land is not only important for preserving biodiversity, but is also a key element in mitigating climate change.
I believe that for all the challenges we face, climate change is the one that will define the contours of this century more dramatically perhaps than the others.
Surviving sea level rise will change our lives; it will change the way we see ourselves on the planet; it will lead to a happier and more equitable way of life for all mankind.
Only then can we leave behind a world fit for our children, where there is less conflict and greater cooperation – a world marked not by human suffering, but by human progress. – The times of the straits
Professor Benjamin P. Horton, Director of the Singapore Earth Observatory, Nanyang Technological University.
This story, first published by The Straits Times, was shared as part of World News Day 2021, a global campaign to highlight the essential role of factual journalism in delivering news and information. reliable information in the service of humanity. # Journalism matters.