Wildfires rage in Chiang Mai, Thailand
– Getty Images
Never before in my life have I read a report and felt to the core of my being that every parent who loves their kids must read it. And this is also the first time I have ever opened a column with a mental health warning that what follows may be emotionally disturbing. But when I read the Chatham House Climate Change Risk Assessment report last Friday, I was left devastated at how desperate our situation is.
As I thought how best to convey the essential, terrifying message of the report, I decided I should just lay out the raw facts and let them reach your soul.
The two most civilisation-shattering facts are these. Firstly, under the current global government commitments to cut carbon emissions, as laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement, we have only a 1 per cent chance of not breaching a 1.5C rise of global temperatures. This is the temperature that prompted 200 health journals around the world, including the British Medical Journal, to simultaneously issue an editorial last week telling governments that passing this 1.5C rise would pose the greatest catastrophic, irreversible threat ever to human health.
The second fact is that we have only a 5 per cent chance of avoiding even a 2C rise. Indeed, the authors indicate that if we fail to keep to the current commitments, and instead continue increasing carbon emissions, there is a possibility of hitting a scorching 7C rise. More and more parts of the world would exceed temperatures at which people could safely work outdoors. Such temperatures would be literally lethal for humans without air-conditioning.
The report estimates that by 2050, the UK and Western Europe would have about 35 days of heatwaves – every year. Forty per cent of cropland would endure severe drought and 50 per cent in a worst-case scenario. This would be up from 9 per cent on average between 1980 and 2010. A 2C rise would lead to an 800 per cent increase in wildfires globally. California, where wildfires are already up 500 per cent, gives humanity a searing glimpse of what the new normal is now extremely likely to be.
By 2020, drought-affected land had already doubled all historic baselines, with 13 million in the African Sahel now requiring food aid. There is a 50 per cent chance of a globally disastrous simultaneous crop failure in the world’s three main breadbaskets during the 2040s. A child born this year would be in their early 20s as this catastrophe unfolds. But even without such a risk of simultaneous breadbasket failure, the report states that crop yields per hectare could be down 30 per cent by 2050, in a world where, due to the population explosion, an extra 50 per cent food would be needed.
Such food failures would not only translate into hunger and famines but wars over food resources, mass migration on a scale never before witnessed in human history and widespread political breakdown, as governments could be overthrown by hungry mobs
Currently, 230 million people live fewer than one metre above sea-level and 1 billion live fewer than 10 metres above sea level. But the report says that, even if we are miraculously lucky and the 5 per cent chance of staying under the 2C rise materialises, we would still be committed to a 12 metre rise in sea levels. It adds that ice losses from Antarctica have already tripled since 2012.
In 2020, there were over 30 million people displaced from their homes by extreme weather events, and the predictions are that over 140 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America will be evicted from their homes by the climate catastrophe.
The authors state that all these predictions are based on a central band of expectation. Worse case scenarios resulting from the failure of governments to rein in continuing rises in carbon emissions would dwarf the above predictions.
And then came the report this week from the UN that the latest government commitments under the Paris Agreement would leave annual emissions not down but up 16 per cent by 2030, indicating that we are potentially heading towards a worst-case scenario.
Our leaders are failing humanity, just as King Priam of Troy failed his people by refusing to listen to the dire warnings from his daughter Cassandra who, as a seer, could foretell the doom approaching the city. And so Priam in his hubris ordered the gates to be opened to the Trojan Horse – just as our leaders are opening the gates of hell to this fossil fuelled madness.
Do please read the Chatham House report. Do please be kind emotionally to yourself afterwards. Do please insist that all your friends and any parents you know read it. And then finally do join Greta Thunberg, Gail Bradbrook, Roger Hallam, Vandana Shiva, Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and all the rest of us Cassandras seeking to shout the alarm from the rooftops.
Who knows, maybe if we have millions of Cassandras, we may force our Priamic leaders to act? A 1 per cent chance is better than no chance at all.
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