LAST week, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tried again to shake the world out of its lethargy with powerful language in its new report.
This latest work summarises six previous reports over the last few years involving 700 expert authors from 95 countries, including Malaysia. It comprised thousands of pages gleaned from publications produced by the scientific community, and reviewed and endorsed by expert representatives of governments.
The report confirms the indisputable direct role humans play in causing climate change. And, the problem is getting worse. Already global temperatures are 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels and experts predict it will reach 1.5°C in the early 2030s.
Seven years after the watershed Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, national governments have not done enough to address a problem creating untold harm to lives, livelihoods and natural systems.
The report cites evidence that “global warming drives extreme and deadly climate disasters like heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts and tropical cyclones”.
For example, according to the World Bank, the October 2022 floods in Pakistan resulted in economic losses of US$15.2 billion, with rehabilitation and reconstruction in a resilient way estimated to require around US$16.3 billion.
The floods killed over 1,700 of the 33 million people affected, and more than 2.2 million houses were damaged or destroyed.
Malaysia is no stranger to devastating floods. The “once in a century” floods of December 2021 left at least 54 dead, displaced 400,000 people, and resulted in an estimated RM6.1 billion in losses.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the climate crisis as a “ticking time bomb” that requires developed countries to “decarbonise” their economies by 2040, and developing countries by 2050. The report maintains that “the 1.5°C limit is achievable… but it will take a quantum leap in climate action”.
As our Oscar-winning Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh’s movie title suggests, our world needs climate action “everything, everywhere, all at once”.
That means making sure that global use of coal is eliminated, oil declines by up to 90 per cent, and gas by up to 85 per cent by 2050. But, as someone recently remarked, “the lack of progress toward those cuts since the Paris Agreement isn’t stymied by the science but by political and economic considerations”.
Several years ago, James Gustave Speth, a former administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, commented: “I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change.
“I thought that 30 years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
The challenge was also well summed up by Heidi Steltzer, a US climate researcher who said, “more reports aren’t going to do it. We have already done that. Reaching global climate goals may require a transformational vision of science that starts to consider values, like love and hope, because they aren’t easily measured.
“Whatever goals the world sets, we don’t get there without love,” she said.
“We can’t get to 1.5°C or whatever target we set without love for ourselves, without knowing ourselves and without connecting to, and caring for one another, our planet and the universe.”
To complement this we also need hope, that ingredient which can spark societal changes.
I was a victim of the December 2021 floods that struck Bentong. I still recall the anguish and horror watching the water rapidly rise to the ceiling of our house in the middle of the night and inflicting major damage to our property.
My youngest grandson, Leo Mateen, was born a month ago. I shudder to think that, without a change of course, he is likely to suffer several times as many climate extreme events in his lifetime as I have.
We all need to find it in our hearts to love this planet as much as we love our children and their children and act accordingly.
This article first appeared on NSTOnline on 29 March, 2023