Editorial

By: Reinhold Pape

The citizens of Small Island Development States (SIDS) are among the most vulnerable people to climate change. More than 60 million people living on these islands are threatened directly by sea-level rise and more intense weather-related natural disasters, caused by global heating. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) is the intergovernmental organisation of those 39 low-lying coastal and small islands states, 28% of the developing countries. As the existence of many AOSIS states is put at risk by climate change, AOSIS has threatened lawsuits. The results of a review of the literature show that potential liability for climate-change-related losses for the SIDS is over $570 trillion. This September, at the start of the UN General Assembly, AOSIS again issued an urgent call for economic support and climate action to deal with the double financial blow of both the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing climate impacts. “SIDS are sinking: not just from climate-induced sea level rise, we are sinking in debt. Leadership must place the most vulnerable at the core of the response to the climate crisis”, that is the main message of AOSIS, which concludes that such an approach would save all nations from the threats of climate change.

AOSIS is fighting for the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement. The CONSTRAIN1 report from December 2019 zeroes in on the remaining carbon budget for the 1.5°C target as well as projected surface warming rates over the next 20 years. Both topics are crucially important to the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Building on the methodology used in the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, the report states that the remaining carbon budget is 395 (235) Gt CO₂ if we are to meet the warming limit of 1.5°C with 50% (66%) probability. Present annual emissions are roughly 40 Gt CO₂ annually.  Animations2 show very clearly how little time is left until we pass the 1.5°C tipping point.

AirClim is currently helping Climate Action Network (CAN), with generous support from the Swedish Postcode Foundation, to develop 1.5°C pathway proposals that show how this tipping point can still be avoided, and to analyse the latest climate science from a CAN point of view.

In the meantime, climate heating is continuing, as summarised for example in the 2019 report of the American Meteorological Society3. Covid-19 enforced restrictions will slow global CO₂ emissions in 2020 compared with 2019. But temporary CO₂ emission reductions will not slow down global warming – unless governments decide to intervene and help to make emission reductions permanent4.

Patience is running out – there are unfortunately forces out there with a very different agenda, who have blocked, ignored or slowed down efforts to change our energy, transport and land-use systems for far too long. These forces need to be held accountable for the severe lack of progress and politicians need to be monitored constantly to discourage them from non-action and voting against environmental improvements. NGOs must no longer be overridden by industry lobbyists, but actively step up and forcefully influence decision-makers through science-based efficient communication.

Reinhold Pape

References:

1. https://icsc.ngo/cop25/
https://climateanalytics.org/publications/2019/zero-in-on-the-remaining-carbon-budget-and-decadal-warming-rates/

2. http://openclimatedata.net/climate-spirals/from-emissions-to-global-warming-line-chart/

3. https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/press-office/news/weather-and-climate/2020/2019-bams-global-state-of-the-climate-report

4. https://eciu.net/analysis/infographics/covid-19-climate

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