Increased Tropical Cyclones due to global climate change

By Irshad A Khan

The cyclone – Nisarga hitting west coast of India from Gujarat to Maharashtra in the early hours of June 3 is too quick an extreme event after the recent devastation caused by the Amphan in Orissa and West Bengal on May 21. Mumbai never had a cyclone for the last more than 130 years and thus is not ready to face this calamity though cyclones in the eastern coast are not infrequent.

The overall frequency and severity of the cyclones and hurricanes world over has increased during the last 30-40 years. The main cause of these extreme sea level events is climate change resulting in melting of ice and glaciers, ocean level rise and warming of seawater. 

The Inter-Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently brought out a “Special Report on the Ocean and Cryospehere in a Chaniging Climate” (2019). According to this report global warming has resulted in widespread shrinking of cryosphere with mass loss from ice sheets and glaciers and reductions in snow cover over Arctic sea ice extent and thickness and increased temperature of permafrosts. Also, it is certain that the global ocean has warmed unabated since 1970. It is a scientific fact that global mean sea level rise is accelerating in recent decades. Increases in tropical cyclone winds and rainfall, and increases in extreme waves, combined relative sea level rise, exacerbate extreme sea level events and coastal hazards.

Anthropogenic climate change has increased precipitation, winds and sea level events associated with some tropical cyclones, which has increased intensity of multiple extreme events and associated cascading impacts. IPCC report  further highlights that extreme sea level events that are historically rare (once per century in the recent past) are projected to occur frequently at least once a year at many locations by 2050 especially in tropical regions. The average intensity of tropical cyclones and the accompanying precipitation rates are also projected to increase for a 2°C global temperature rise. Rising sea levels will contribute to higher extreme sea level events associated with tropical cyclone. Coastal hazards will be exacerbated by an increase in average intensity, magnitude of storm scourge and precipitation rates of tropical cyclones.

Nisarga cyclone can be easily attributed to the climate change impact as Mumbai did not have a cyclone for more than a century. In 2014 Cyclone Nilofar was the first severe tropical cyclone recorded in the Arabian Sea in post-monsoon cyclone season. It did not make land fall but produced heavy rainfall on the Western Indian Coast. It was attributed to anthropogenic global warming which has been shown to have increased the probability of post-monsoon tropical cyclone over the Arabian Sea. Cyclone Nisarga is a pre-monsoon or monsoon cyclone.

Amphan over the Bay of Bengal and Nisarga cyclones over the Arabian sea respectively causing tremendous destruction on India’s east and west coasts are a result of climate change. All Indian coastal areas are highly vulnerable and have future risks of cyclone related hazards including flooding and destruction of crops and other property and even in extreme cases submergence of part of coastal areas. These threats are caused by global problems and can only be managed through a globally agreed and financed climate change mitigation and adaptation action. When will the international community awake to the climate change catastrophe in offing and will seriously implement Paris Climate Agreement?

Will Covid-19 change ecological thoughts?

By Irshad A Khan

 

Industrial Revolution and diseases

Since the industrial revolution in mid eighteenth century man did not stop to discover and invent to make life more comfortable and fast. Speed in the world started catching up with railway system, mechanized textile mills, coal propelled machines and metallurgy, energy, electricity and aeroplanes and space crafts. Agriculture too progressed with higher production by developing high yield variety of food grains like wheat, rice and maize and other farm products. The famine and starvation became a thing of the past, albeit gradually, more particularly in rich and middle class income groups. Science and technology started dominating all walks of life. Diseases and epidemics were controlled to a great extent. Mining, industrialization, urban expansion and infrastructure development resulted in clearance of millions of hectares of forests and overuse and misuse of natural resources. The global population that was one billion in 1800 became 7 billion in 2012 and it grew four times during the past one hundred years alone.

The discovery of fossil fuels i.e. coal and petroleum, as source of energy, dramatically and exponentially expanded manufacturing industry and transportation and provided significant convenience for domestic lighting, cooking, and air conditioning. With fossil fuel came air pollution and then the climate change.

Small pox was eradicated; vaccines were developed for tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid, measles, chicken pox etc. Many diseases have been controlled or reduced with better treatment. Plague is unheard of for the last one hundred years. Life expectancy increased with new medicines, diagnostic tests and overall progress in medical science. But new pathogens and epidemics kept coming. Spanish flu devastated the world starting in 1918. Common influenza, HIV, Ebola, Avian flu, SARS, Zika and now SAR-CoV2 have posed challenge to the well-being and survival of the human race. Covid-19 is proving to be the most dangerous pandemic as the virus is highly contagious and lethal. About four billion people all over the world fully or partially remain locked in their houses since February 2020 through May 2020. The economic activities have come to a halt, traveling has almost stopped and the life has almost come to a standstill.

Pandemics

Has Homo sapiens transcended its planetary boundaries? Have we reached a point where our population has exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth? Why the flu virus is more lethal for people above 60 years of age. Is the Corona pandemic part of the organic evolution and the operation of the theory of “survival of the fittest”? Is the nature out to cull the human population to adjust it to the carrying capacity of the earth? How badly has the man disturbed the ecological balance and damaged natural ecosystems, land , air and water? And is the Corona virus nature’s wrath and warning?

After the second World War, Covid-19 is the most dangerous happening. There have been such epidemics and pandemics in the past also like the black death in the medieval ages and the Spanish flue in 1918. However, the current pandemic is an unexpected and shocking ongoing historical event being experienced by the people born after the end of the second world war.

Past 75 years have seen comparative peace as against the frequent wars in the previous decades and centuries. When wars were the regular feature of human civilization these used to kill hundred of thousands of people. The major senseless military expeditions after the World War II included Vietnam, the middle-east, Africa and Afghanistan. There were many civil wars also in some third world countries. But by and large the wars were limited and the major part of the world remained safe. These 75 years witnessed great progress in science and technology, infrastructure development, energy, medicine, defense technology, electronics, communications, travel, tourism and space. The information technology completely changed all sectors of economy and human civilization. The unprecedented and rapid economic growth led to the expansion of employment opportunities, better nutrition, housing and clothing, globalization, prosperity and wealth creation.

Environmental destruction

Along with the progress came concern for the environmental degradation. And despite the universal acceptance that development should not be with environmental destruction, and the depleting natural resources should be used in such a way so as to be enjoyed by the future generations too. But the sustainable development remained just a rhetoric and a slogan. Serious commitments and actions have been promised but not undertaken world wide to move to a lifestyle that promoted sustainability. The stage evolved from air and water pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity to an extremely disastrous irreversible and ever deteriorating climate change due to increased emissions of the green house gases, mainly carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  

Climate Change

Three decades ago in 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted by the international community which was later ratified by all the countries (1994). It was agreed that measures and actions should be taken to save the world from climate change catastrophe and timely action should be taken to mitigate the climate change to avoid its disastrous impacts. The Conference of the Parties (COP) to this Convention practically met every year and worked to evolve an acceptable international agreement to achieve the objectives of the Convention. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 was the first step in this direction. However, it practically failed as the largest emitters did not ratify the Protocol. With prolonged efforts and hectic negotiations, the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016 with objective to not allow the global atmospheric temperature to rise beyond 2 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial level. (Please see a blog on the Paris Agreement at www.clifem.com). Countries prepared and submitted their commitment for mitigation and adaptation through the nationally determined contributions (NDC). Suddenly the USA decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2017 which was Donald Trump’s election promise. The ambitions in form of NDCs that were submitted needed review and implementation monitoring under the Paris Agreement. However, many experts are of the view that the NCDs are mere declaration of aspirations and many countries did not honestly commit to implement the NCDs. Many expressed in their documents that they needed huge amount of financial resources to fulfill their commitments.

Climate Change will be more dangerous than Covid-19

However, the climate change issue has in effect been put on the back burner, in view of the serious pandemic prevalent in the world threatening lives, economy and the well being of human race. The whole world has come feel its impact and vulnerability, with slow down of practical all activities. Millions of people are living inside their houses to protect from the Corona virus. In November 2019 no one imagined that the world would face what it is experiencing. The man is hiding from the powerful invisible enemy who has disrupted the normal life. It came without warning and quietly and spread all over the world causing death, sickness, unemployment, poverty and psychological trauma. Due to the world wide lockdown and slowdown of the movement and economic activities the rate of GHG emission has temporarily reduced and air and water became cleaner in highly polluted locations. The air quality in the highly air polluted cities became good. The wild animals came out from the forests to city to reclaim their lost habitats. But as the world get out to resume normal activities this short-lived environmental benefit will soon disappear.

Like the other previous pandemics this will also end in the next 12-18 months. Once treatment and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there will be business as usual till the next disaster though the pandemic will leave behind a trail of human tragedy and economic miseries.

Man should learn from this experience. The future pandemics cannot be prevented. The wild animals in the forests have all kinds of viruses that do not harm those animals, but once they find a new host in form of a human being, they may cause harm and make people sick and even may prove lethal. As we clear more and more forests and destroy natural ecosystems, we will face the risk of release and transmission of new and mutated viruses from the animals. So long they remain in forests, we are safe. Deforestation and loss of biodiversity particularly in the tropical regions.

One can still hope to develop drugs and vaccines and enhance health care infrastructure to combat diseases and pandemics, but the man-made disaster in form of the irreversible climate change that is gradually building up will have no medicine or vaccine. The climate change is proceeding unabated due to increased emissions of GHG and it will lead to an unimaginable catastrophe. The use of fossil fuels is not going to decline in near future as more and more countries attempt to develop their economy. The climate change impact will inevitably pose a more serious challenge to human survival in near future.

REDD PLUS AND PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE AGREEMENT

IRSHAD A KHAN

      Article 5 of the Paris Agreement on Global Climate Change stipulates that all parties to the Agreement (1) should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d), of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including forests; and (2) they are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (plus) in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivising, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.

      The approaches to REDD plus have been evolved since 2005 which advanced in significant decisions taken by COP 16 at Cancun in 2010- (16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC) and finally adopted as the Warsaw framework for REDD plus at COP 19. According to the agreement and decisions as referred to in Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, the developing countries will implement REDD plus which will be supported by developed countries.

      However, it is a fact that the implementation of REDD plus is not legally binding if one goes by the Paris Agreement language as contained in Article 5. The words used are “should” and “are encouraged” and not “shall”. This probably was a result of ecological, political and socio-economic complexities associated with forestry sector in practically all developing countries and enormous insurmountable difficulties involved in implementation of REDD plus. Also, a consensus on REDD plus would be improbable in view of a variety of stakeholders and interests. REDD plus policies and approaches as evolved make it a voluntary and incentive-based activity.   Nevertheless, there are international expectations that developing countries should take actions to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and that they manage forests sustainably to conserve as well as enhance carbon stocks. According to 4th Report of the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) deforestation and forest degradation contribute to about 17 percent of green house gas (GHG) emissions. By implementing REDD plus not only the GHG emissions from forests will reduce but sequestration of GHG from atmosphere will also increase.

      Although REDD plus implementation is not legally binding and obligatory under the Paris Agreement, the developing countries that have submitted their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) with measurable ambitions including actions to increase forest carbon sinks, reduce deforestation (forest clearance) and degradation and undertake afforestation/ reforestation, the climate change mitigation through forests becomes legally binding with or without explicitly implementing REDD plus for results-based payments. Therefore, the voluntary nature of Article 5 does not remain voluntary if a country’s NDCs include mitigation through forests. The implementation of NDCs is required to be quantifiable, measurable and verifiable through a system established and methodology adopted and rules framed by the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC serving as the meeting of the Parties of the Paris Agreement (CMA). This will require monitoring of carbon stocks in forests of a country on a regular basis and report submitted as part of the progress report of the NDCs. For example, India has committed through its NDCs, creation of additional sinks in forests for 2.5 to 3 billion tones of CO2 equivalent by 2030. This may be presumed from a baseline of 2015 as the current carbon stocks in its forests forest must sequestrate and store an additional 2.5 to 3 billion tones of Carbon.

      A country having committed its climate change mitigation and adaptation ambition (or target) through its NDCs is required to prepare a baseline or forest emissions reference level (FERL) and forest reference level (FRL) using guidance and methodology of IPCC as adopted by the COP with full transparency of methodology and report. A periodic progress report of NDCs, every five years, will be submitted to the UNFCCC secretariat for inclusion in a registry. The required information and reports submitted by a Party to the Agreement will be scrutinised by a technical review committee as well as there will be a periodic stock taking by the CMA. The provision of accountability is amply clear in the processes, methods and regulations to be developed and adopted by the CMA under the Agreement.

      A country’s NDCs submission in itself is not an instrument of incentives in form of results-based payment. It is an international obligation for which the concerned country will be accountable. Unless REDD plus is implemented to achieve forest related ambition or target, and the results-based actions are fully measurable, verifiable and reported, no financial benefits will accrue to those countries that implement forest-based mitigation.

      This brings us to decision that REDD plus is implemented in all its phases beginning with development of a national strategy or action plan as well as capacity. The three phases as decided by COP are

I. Development of national strategies or action plans, policies and measures, and capacity-building, followed by

II. the implementation of national policies and measures and national strategies or action plans that could involve

further capacity-building,

technology development and transfer, and

results-based demonstration activities, and

III. evolving into results-based actions that should be fully measured, reported and verified.

      It was also decided that while developing or implementing its national strategies and national action plans a country will address, inter alia,

  1. The drivers of deforestation and degradation;
  2. Land tenure issues;
  3. Forest governance issues;
  4. Gender considerations;
  5. Safeguards identified and agreed by COP;
  6. Full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, inter alia, indigenous people and local communities.

            A country implementing REDD plus, if it seeks or looks for results-based finance, is required to adhere to all principles and take all actions as agreed at COP 16 (Cancun) and reiterated, finalized and adopted as part of the Warsaw Framework for REDD plus at COP session in November 2014 (COP 19-Warsaw). A country is required to develop a national forest reference or sub-national level as an interim measure, emission level or forest reference level; robust and transparent national forest monitoring system for the monitoring and reporting of activities or if appropriate at subnational level; and provide information about how safeguards are being addressed. The sole basis for REDD plus success or failure is the increase or decrease in forest carbon stock compared to a base line or forest reference level. If there is an increase, incentives will flow from whatever sources and the increase has to be retained and desirably multiplied over the years or decades to qualify to continue to receive payments for results-based actions.

            REDD plus objectives can also be achieved without implementing it as an independent action for incentives but as part of ambition or target in a country’s NDCs to mitigate climate change impacts by reducing emissions from forests and sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide by expanding forest carbon sinks. Many developing countries would want to draw payments for REDD plus actions. They are in effect sequestrating emissions pushed by developed countries. They would need for this purpose support from developed countries in form of financial assistance, capacity building, technology and associated transaction costs, fully or partially.

            However, certain risks are associated with implementation of REDD plus. The first risk is that after substantial efforts and investment, the benefits may not commensurate the cost or even there may be a net negative rate of return. Some countries that are not confident about positive incentives from REDD plus (e.g. India, China, South Africa etc.) may avoid this implementation risk and may yet put in place or strengthen their forest carbon inventory monitoring system.

            The second perceived risk is from safeguard issues both environmental and social. A robust environment and social assessment (ESA) is required as an essential part of REDD plus preparedness as well as project development document. Since the stringent safeguard policies of the World Bank are being adopted, many countries may not be comfortable as mitigation plans, if any, will not only involve substantial cost but will also be cumbersome. For example, if an ESA results find that the interests of indigenous people or other forest dependent local communities are adversely affected by way of restricting access to REDD plus forest areas thereby jeopardising their livelihood opportunities or any physical displacement is involves, safeguard issues will be triggered. Safeguards are meant to ensure that REDD plus related activities do not result in any adverse environmental or social impact such as biodiversity, drastic alteration of a natural ecosystem structure and composition. Implementation of safeguards may reduce or offset financial incentives and create unnecessary responsibilities.

         The third risk is possibility of deviation from transparency framework as established under Article 13 the Paris Agreement with a view to build mutual trust and confidence and to promote effective implementation. The principles and guidance relating to governance, monitoring and reporting, if compromised will deny incentives and adverse international opinion.

        The REDD plus finance for results-based incentive continues to remain elusive. The possibility of US $100 billion climate fund as discussed at the recently concluded November 2016 COP 22 at Marrakech, could not be resolved by the international communities. The World politics is changing fast so are the commitments.          

Human species will survive climate change?

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Irshad Khan

Catastrophic climate impacts threatening survival of human race are inevitable if business as usual continues resulting in ever increasing green house gas (GHG) emissions intensity and addition of GHG concentration to the earth’s atmosphere. However, if actions are taken by all members of the international community, both developed and developing countries aiming at reducing emissions of GHG and sincere efforts are made to reduce GHG concentration in the atmosphere, the future survival of human as well as other animal and plant species will be assured.

It is evident from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (2016) that the global community has arrived at a consensus that that our planet’s average atmospheric temperature increase should be limited to 2 degree C from pre-industrial revolution temperature by 2050. Actions to mitigate climate change are found expression in the intended nationally determined contributions (INDC) submitted to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by most countries have done it and the other are in the process preparing and submission.

It is a well recognised fact that GHG emissions have not peaked as yet and many developing countries and emerging economies are increasing their emission intensity as well as per capita emissions with the justification that they are at a development stage when they are compelled to use increasing energy from fossil fuels to make progress and reduce poverty in their respective countries. They also assert, from time to time, the principle of equity and climate justice along with that of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), though these principles have been diluted in recent international climate change negotiations. For example, both China and India (China being the highest emitter) intend their emissions peaking around 2030. Similar is case with countries like Brazil, Russia and South Africa. Simultaneously these countries are also taking steps to reduce dependence on fossil fuel based energy and increase share of renewable energy gradually.

The Paris Agreement has given hope to our society. It is a scientific fact that the strongest instinct that all animals have is “survival”. They fight back attacks, resist threats and use all their energies both physical and mental to save their lives. A question arises whether human species has come to possess that collective consciousness and instinct today? Historically, it did not and this is one species that has been killing and destroying its own kind. The most primitive instinct of man has been to create security by killing others perceived as threat. The ancient tribal battles, invasions, occupation of other countries and land, extermination of villages and towns by invading and conquering armies, expansion of territories, colonisation other countries and exploitation of fellow human beings-have characterised human attitude and behaviour.  This trait appears to be deep rooted in our unconscious and subconscious mind and human egoistic approach is reflected in our social, economic and political system.

One striking difference in case of climate change appears to be that it is challenging one and all members of human community. The GHG emissions diffuse throughout earth’s atmosphere quickly irrespective of where the source is. Even the most powerful economies have no power to prevent the emissions from traveling.

Should collective risk and threats raise level of human consciousness to be ready to face climate change disasters or even to reverse these? Or will collective catastrophe and  miseries provide solace in accepting as a day of doom for all.

There is a hope in the wisdom of mankind that they will face this challenge collectively, unite to take remedial measures, change their life styles, mitigate impacts and mobilise resources and organise adaptation to climate change.  This and this alone will ensure survival of human species beyond 2050 and 2100 AD.