Nov 1, 2016

Climate change impact

written by Tina Baumgartner
in category Fiji, Uncategorized

Local business executives have been cautioned against dismissing as “small”, the increase in global temperature and rise in sea level.

While touting the business opportunities unlocked by the Paris Agreement, climate change expert Dr Mahendra Kumar did not cherry pick data on the consequences and impact of global warming when he addressed the Top Executives Conference 2016 in Nadi recently.

“Small changes equal big changes in the environment,” he stressed.

Education key to mitigation

The Pacific region, which covers a third of the earth’s surface, is an important part of the globe and has a major influence on the world’s climate. This is why it is important for Fijians to be knowledgeable of the changes, Dr Kumar stressed.

“It is important to understand the large scale features in the current climate in order to understand how the climate will change in the future, and in fact, when you understand how the climate will change and how it is expected to change, then we can talk about how to prepare for this change.”

He listed the large scale features of climate variability as the El Nino and La Nino phenomena, Interdecadal Pacific oscillations, South Pacific convergence zone, inter tropical Convergence Zone, and the West Pacific tropical monsoon. All these features affect different countries in varying degrees and in different ways.

“When we talk about different climates in the West Pacific region, there are different combinations of these features which affect these countries which then gives it a very unique climate.”

When small means big

The enormous changes in the environment, caused by “small” change in temperature, included the Category 5 storms unleashed in the Pacific region over the past few years, including TC Winston which struck Fiji in February this year.

The average global temperatures have climbed 0.8 degrees Celsius since the 1880s — much of it in recent decades — and scientists have indicated that the world sea level has been rising at a rate of 0.14 inches or 3.5millimetres since the early 1990s.

Mr Kumar pointed out that in Fiji, these “small” changes were already having a significant impact on coastal communities, ecosystems, agriculture and fisheries and infrastructure.

“What we have found is the mean temperature has increased over the Pacific over the past three decades, 0.9 degree Celsius from 1961 to 1990.

“Now that’s only an average, it ranges from about 0.25 in Nadi to about 1.7 for Tahiti.

“Now, don’t be misled by this rather small change, when you talk about small change in temperature, it equates to a large change in environment because small change in temperature equates to large change in heat, or if energy was produced, and that has an impact on the environment.”

Temperature and rainfall

The crash course delivered on the science of climate change also included schooling on the parameters which construe climate.

“The first that comes to mind is temperature (and as discussed,) and there are variations between different countries, and the further you go out from the equator, the greater the difference in temperatures, different seasons and so on.

“The second thing is rainfall. There will be implications for water resources, agriculture, flooding and health, infrastructure during extreme events.

Over the years, records show that the southwest Pacific has become wetter.

The Central Pacific has gotten drier and the average rainfall is predicted to increase.

“It has been found that extreme rainfall has become much more intense.

Oceans and sea level

Dr Kumar said oceans were a very vital part of the Pacific and they were closely coupled with the atmosphere because its motions and winds affected surface temperature — which in turn affected the atmosphere.

“Oceans are also important because it has a large capacity to store heat, and the changes affect the global climate. These changes are important as these affect fisheries, coral reefs and livelihood.

“Global sea level has risen by about 20cm since reliable record keeping began in 1880. It is projected to rise another one to four feet by 2100. This is the result of added water from melting land ice and the expansion of seawater as it warms.

“Sea levels have risen — now this is very important to us because we have so many coastal communities. Sea level rises have been approximately 2mm and the figure sounds small but it is very significant. If you look at the rate of sea level rise, it has been going up. It has been projected that the sea level will rise by 0.26 to 0.28m by the end of this century.”

Changed in character by major climate influences, Dr Kumar said wind driven waves would impact coastal environment, flooding, erosion, structure of reefs, marine habitats and the distribution of species.

Ocean acidification

Dr Kumar said ocean acidification was another phenomenon that was gaining a lot of scrutiny right now because oceans were a major sink of carbon dioxide, absorbing approximately 25 per cent from human activities.

“So if anything happens to the ocean which affects its ability to absorb CO2, it has an impact.

“What has been found on data is year to year, basically there is a general increase in the acidity of oceans, impacting on coral reefs and species. It impact on fisheries, aquaculture, coastal protection, tourism, cultural identity.”

Drivers of climate change

The anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), halocarbons (HFCs), nitrous oxide (N2O) and other short-lived gases and aerosols, have been identified by scientists as the root cause of increasing temperatures. This trapping of heat in the earth’s atmosphere is impacting global weather systems, causing everything from heatwaves to unexpected rainfalls.

Dr Kumar said as far as the Pacific was concerned, data had shown that the number of cyclones over the years had actually decreased.

“So there are fewer cyclones but these will be much more intense.

“Now, what are these climatic changes due to, and I think it is now conclusive that the drivers of climate change are really man made. Now we can say that manmade emissions, comprised of carbon dioxide and methane are responsible for climate change.

“The carbon dioxide concentrations have increased by 40 per cent since the pre-industrial times, namely by fossil fuels and land use changes, and the ocean has absorbed 30 per cent.”

Fiji experience

Across the world, climate change has been cited for altering the lifestyle of thousands of people. Rising seas, powerful storms, hurricanes and cyclones, crippling floods, devastating droughts and higher temperatures are already impacting much of the world’s economies. Just last month Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama told a climate change meeting in Suva that 830 communities were at risk of being claimed by the ocean. Of this group, 40 were identified as high priority.

Fiji was the first country in the world to complete its domestic processes to ratify the Paris Agreement, and the PM said the country would do everything possible to secure the rapid ratification of the Paris Agreement and spur climate action.

As a country that was on the frontline of climate impacts, he said, the rapid entry into force and implementation of the Paris Agreement was critical for our national survival.

Fiji recently established a Green Growth framework, as an advisory benchmark for the Fijian Government on environmental, economic and social issues which included climate change and disaster risk management. Fiji has also consistently called for new global arrangements to make it easier for vulnerable countries to obtain funding to adapt to the extreme weather events such as Tropical Cyclone Winston. At an international gathering this year, Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum said small and vulnerable states needed to focus on adapting to climate change, like in “strengthening infrastructure to survive extreme weather events, as opposed to adopting mitigation measures, such as reducing carbon emissions, which in Fiji’s case were negligible”.

Global Response

In 1979 the first World Climate Conference identified climate change as an urgent world problem and issued a declaration calling on governments to anticipate and guard against potential climate hazards. A World Climate Programme was set up, steered by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). Several intergovernmental conferences on climate change followed.

“Given these changes in climate, the global response to the issue has been quite swift, the first conference on this issue was in 1979,” Dr Kumar shared.

“So there have been a range of meetings but the important one — in 1992 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted as the basis for a global response to the climate change problem.

“The other treaty I’m aware of is the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which set individual, legally binding targets for industrialised countries. And then you have last year’s Paris Agreement.”

Why is Paris significant

Adopted by 195 countries after years of negotiation, the Paris Agreement is unprecedented in its scope and universal ambition.

Mr Kumar said the mechanics of the Paris Agreement, reached at the 21st Conference of Parties will provide for the first truly global and binding agreement on climate change.

“It has huge political traction. It is ambitious — the goal is to keep global warming below 2°C, aspiration of 1.5°C. It gives space for non-government stakeholders like business, civil society, regional governments, local authorities, institutional investors, faith communities and many more, and is built on bottom-up national commitments.

“The Paris Agreement provides a clear path forward towards a climate resilient future, a climate neutral world.”

Giving life to Paris

Dr Kumar said the ambitions of Paris could be achieved by requiring a complete recalibration of existing economic, energy, and industrial agendas.

“Build resilient zero carbon economies, which will radically alter some business models. Phase out fossil fuels, increase use of renewable energy. Develop capacity for ‘negative carbon’ emissions.”

He said 500 companies and 175 investors signed the Paris Pledge for Action, pledging to implement and exceed commitments made by governments in Paris.

“So the private sector has a fundamental role to play and I think the challenge is to further engage and encourage them. The questions businesses need to ask and there are a lot of details but I think I can summarise this in four dimensions.

“Political: we need to look at issues like an increased focus and regulation on climate related disclosure, how much companies are emitting in terms of carbon, increased energy efficiency standards and regulations, land use regulations in different areas, air quality and carbon dioxide regulations, increased policy support for renewable energy and increased focus on climate risk management and adaptation.

“Economic: invest in new business models, changing business models in power generation, increased research and development funding in energy efficiency and clean energy, increased pricing of carbon in different areas.

“Socio cultural: lot of activity in scrutinising companies in terms of energy, how much they have used, need for awareness, need to be aware of changes, consumer behaviour, better connection with society and lifestyle.

“Meteorological: huge potential from business and private sector and be in the driving seat, more innovation.”

Business opportunities

Universally, companies such as General Electric, Unilever, Nike, IKEA, Toyota are already reaping the benefits of offering “green” products and services, a market which has grown to over $100 billion, Dr Kumar pointed out.

“Unilever’s purpose-driven brands are growing at twice the rate of the rest of their portfolio and if GE’s Ecomagination was a standalone business, it would be a Fortune 100 company.”

Locally, Dr Kumar said carbon offsets could be done using REDD+, solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal, biomass, and hotels and resorts could install solar thermal for hot water, PV systems, and energy efficiency. The transport industry could invest more in electric vehicles and opportunities for climate proofed infrastructure exist.

The Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement envision a model of growth and development that is good for people and good for the planet, Dr Kumar concluded.

“It will improve the wellbeing of billions. It will avoid instability and safeguard the development gains achieved to date. And it will end extreme poverty, ensure adequate food and water, protect public health, increase equity and empower through education.”

By Margaret Wise for The Fiji Times Online, 29 October 2016