Print Edition - 2016-09-18  |  Free the Words

Half a degree

  • Signatories must bring the Paris agreement into effect and adjust their development goals accordingly

Sep 18, 2016-

In an effort to curb the life and livelihood threatening changes to the global climate trajectory, 195 nations signed the Paris agreement on climate change last year. Through this agreement, countries have pledged to maintain the average global temperature rise to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” while “pursuing efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C.”

However, recent figures from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) show that the average temperature of the first six months of 2016—the hottest year in recorded history beginning 1880—has already reached 1.3°C above the pre-industrial era. While the temperature of a few months of the El Nino year cannot be directly attributed to climate change, this increase, however, does signal the speed and intensity with which the 1.5°C target is approaching us. It is evaluated that under the current emission scenario, the maximum amount of carbon that can be released into the atmosphere while staying under the 1.5°C target will be spent within the next five years. 

Given such predictions, many have misgivings about the prospects of keeping warming below 1.5°C. Despite reassurances from eminent scientists and experts in the field, many argue that this target is not feasible given the tight time frame for action. Some even question the legitimacy of the 1.5°C limit.

However insignificant the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C may seem, the effects imposed by this additional half-a-degree increase will be anything but harmless. According to the European Geosciences Union, in a “2°C world”, the duration of heat waves, the intensity of rainstorms and the rise in sea levels would approximately increase by one third more than in a “1.5°C world”. Curbing warming to 1.5°C, scientists predict, would allow us to control extreme events to manageable levels and regional ecosystems would be significantly less threatened. 

However, it is important to note that impacts of global warming even in a “1.5°C world” would be harsher for some populations and ecosystems than for others, depending on the climate sensitiveness of the region and the adaptive capacity of its inhabitants. Nepal, with its climate-sensitive mountainous topography and low Human Development Index has been struggling to adapt to the erratic climate patterns that it has been facing in recent decades.

Over the years, the rainfall patterns in Nepal have become unpredictable and historical trends show that the mean rainfall of Nepal has decreased over the years. While some predict it to decrease further, others forecast an increase in its frequency and intensity. In such an uncertain future, as a consequence of major hydrological changes, the intensity and frequency of water induced disasters like floods, landslides and droughts would increase drastically.

According to a global study on the impacts of climate trends on crop production, with every degree rise in the temperature during the growing season, rice and wheat yields decline by almost a tenth. The extensive drought of 2007-08 in Nepal reported even larger losses: rice production decreased by approximately 30 percent, wheat by about 15 percent and about 300,000 people became food insecure. With about two-thirds of the population involved in agriculture, such vagaries in seasonal climatic conditions have dire consequences on Nepal’s food security and economic development.

Although Nepal’s hydropower sector has been deemed to be one of the country’s best bets for economic, social and environmental prosperity, low flow of water during the winter months, which is likely to be further exacerbated by climate change, means that even this sector is not immune from the impacts of rising temperatures. According to the Economic Impact Assessment (EIA) of Climate Change by the government, the overall economic impacts of a decrease in agriculture and  hydropower generation and an  increase in water induced disasters due to future climate change could be equivalent to 2-3 percent of current GDP by mid-century.

Nepal faces ‘extreme risk’ due to the effects of climate change and in Nepal’s own National Adaptation Programme of Action, out of the 75 districts, 29 are characterised as highly vulnerable to landslides, 22 to droughts, 12 to Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) and nine to floods. 

Thus, for vulnerable countries like Nepal where even a 1.5°C rise in global temperatures can be calamitous, it is unthinkable what a 2°C rise would mean—glaciers might disappear and GLOF events would multiply in the high mountains, the hills would face an increased number of landslides, floods would inundate settlements in the plains and the valleys, and recurrent droughts would critically affect the agriculture sector. 

If there is to be any hope for countries like Nepal in the future, all signatories must bring the Paris agreement into effect and adjust their development goals accordingly. This is especially imperative because an analysis performed by the Climate Analytics, a non-profit climate science and policy institute, shows that the current policies and pledges of most nations are not sufficient to even hold temperatures at the 2°C threshold. 

Pandey, a Btech student, is an intern at the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-Nepal

Published: 18-09-2016 08:30

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