LAST WEEK, Oxford Dictionaries declared “climate emergency” the word of 2019. Earlier this week, the United Nations (UN) spelled out why.
According to the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), instead of declining in the wake of the Paris Agreement, greenhouse gases increased. In fact, levels hit record highs, with jumps well above the average for the last decade. The report suggests action on the climate emergency is having no effect.
“There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change,” said Petteri Taalas, the WMO secretary-general. “We need to increase the level of ambition for the sake of the future welfare of mankind.”
Taalas noted the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of carbon dioxide was three-five million years ago. Back then, the temperature was 2-3C warmer and the sea level was ten-20 metres higher than now.”
Scientists say emissions must halve by 2030 to give a good chance of limiting global heating to 1.5C, beyond which hundreds of millions of people will suffer more heatwaves, droughts, floods, and poverty. We are in a situation where urgent action is required to slash or stop climate change and avoid irreversible environmental damage.
Locally, key indicators are providing considerable cause for alarm. According to John Agard, marine biologist and professor in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of the West Indies, the sea-level rise in TT has almost doubled in the past two decades. At a conference earlier this week, he noted that when TT started to measure sea-level rise about 20 years ago, it was about 1.6mm per year but now it is close to 3mm per year.
“We are not guessing,” the professor observed. “We know exactly what the sea-level rise is in TT. And the rate is increasing.”
The implications are dire. Increases in the sea level will not only pose a challenge to low-lying areas and to groundwater, but it will intensify the rate of coastal erosion. Water will eat into the land at a more dramatic pace, posing a severe challenge to coastal management as well as to plans for tourism development.
Already there is a tremendous cost.
In Tobago, it’s been estimated that approximately $60 million in capital is required to implement a scientific and comprehensive solution to the coastal erosion problem at Pigeon Point and Milford Bay.
“Coastal erosion has accelerated,” said Tobago House of Assembly Secretary of Infrastructure, Quarries and the Environment Kwesi Des Vignes this month. He was speaking after rough seas drove bathers away from several of the island’s beaches.
We must lobby larger blocks, such as the European Union, which will next Thursday vote one whether to declare a climate emergency, to take more drastic action to safeguard the planet. Otherwise “climate emergency” could soon be replaced with “climate catastrophe.”