Human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years, according to a report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released back in August.
Researchers found that climate change is already affecting every inhabited region across the globe with human influence contributing to many observed changes in weather and climate extremes.
The report, “Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis”, states that each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850.
However, the report states that strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change.
It notes that while benefits for air quality would come quickly, it could take 20-30 years to see global temperatures stabilize.
“Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth in multiple ways. The changes we experience will increase with additional warming,” said IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Panmao Zhai.
The report projects that in the coming decades, climate changes will increase in all regions. It states that for 1.5°C of global warming, there will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons.
At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health, the report shows.
“I think this report is incredibly important for us in The Bahamas,” said Dr. Adelle Thomas, director of the Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Research Centre at the University of The Bahamas (UB), speaking with National Review.
“It really shows the increased level of knowledge that we have that climate change is happening. It’s already affecting every region and it’s really affecting us in The Bahamas as we have seen with Hurricane Dorian and the flooding, so it’s really underscoring that these changes that we have already experienced will only get worse.”
Dorian, which struck The Bahamas as a Category 5 hurricane on September 1, 2019, was one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded and the strongest hurricane to hit The Bahamas with the Abacos and Grand Bahama sustaining the brunt of the storm.
The official death toll in The Bahamas is 74, but many more people are missing, with officials providing conflicting information on that number.
The economic losses, meanwhile, have been mind boggling with rebuilding efforts at a crawl in some communities, compounded in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, which reached our shores just six months after the destructive storm.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) estimated US$3.4 billion in damage and loss, a number equivalent to a quarter of the country’s GDP.
In its report, “Impact of Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas: A view from the sky”, the IDB observed: “Natural disasters are considered a major threat to economic activity, consumption, and investment not only for The Bahamas, but also for the rest of Caribbean countries.
“In recent years, most Caribbean countries have experienced economic losses and internal displacements as a consequence of natural disasters. With a few exceptions, small island states in the Caribbean and the Pacific have suffered annual average damage due to natural disasters of around two to three percent of GDP between 1980 and 2017.”
Threat of future events loom large.
But it is not just about temperature, noted an IPCC press release that accompanied the report’s release.
Climate change is bringing multiple changes in different regions – which will all increase with further warming. These include changes to wetness and dryness, to winds, snow and ice, coastal areas and oceans, the IPCC said.
The IPCC observed:
– Change is intensifying the water cycle. This brings more intense rainfall and associated flooding, as well as more intense drought in many regions.
– Climate change is affecting rainfall patterns. In high latitudes, precipitation is likely to increase, while it is projected to decrease over large parts of the subtropics. Changes to monsoon precipitation are expected, which will vary by region.
– Coastal areas will see continued sea level rise throughout the 21st Century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion. Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years, could happen every year by the end of this century.
– Further warming will amplify permafrost thawing, and the loss of seasonal snow cover, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and loss of summer Arctic sea ice.
– Changes to the ocean, including warming, more frequent marine heatwaves, ocean acidification, and reduced oxygen levels have been clearly linked to human influence. These changes affect both ocean ecosystems and the people that rely on them, and they will continue throughout at least the rest of this century.
– For cities, some aspects of climate change may be amplified, including heat (since urban areas are usually warmer than their surroundings), flooding from heavy precipitation events and sea level rise in coastal cities.
The report also shows that human actions still have the potential to determine the future course of the climate.
The evidence is clear that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main driver of climate change, even as other greenhouse gases and air pollutants also affect the climate.
“Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions. Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate,” Zhai said.
Referring to the changes related to the climate crisis, Thomas, the UB climate change specialist, observed, “They’re getting worse much more rapidly than we thought that they would and I think it’s a wake up call for us that climate change and its impacts aren’t going anywhere and we really need to start addressing them now.”
Thomas pointed to mitigation, which means reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, and adaptation. In other words, what can we do to reduce the impacts of climate change when they do happen?
“For small island [states] like The Bahamas, where our greenhouse gases are minuscule compared to the larger countries, we do need to mitigate, we do need to reduce our emissions. But I think critically we need to adapt, so we need to start planning and putting in place measures that are going to reduce the impacts that we have,” she said.
Disaster risk management becomes incredibly important, Thomas added.
“We need to start thinking about how we can avoid a situation that we experienced with Dorian. We really need to start looking at the slow onset impacts of climate change, so sea level rise and flooding, which are really going to affect us, which of our communities we’re going to continue to live in if they become permanently inundated with water,” she said.
The Bahamas implemented the historic Paris Agreement on November 4, 2016. The Ministry for the Environment and Housing called it “a step forward in the fight against climate change”.
With the agreement in full effect, states are bound to curb their carbon emissions in order to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C. Critically, the special needs of small island developing states are preserved in the agreement.
“The Bahamas has passed legislation, advanced policies and programs to ensure that we are doing our part to reduce emissions. The Bahamas has reduced and/or eliminated tariffs on solar systems and energy efficient appliances,” the ministry states.
“In addition, The Bahamas has joined international organizations that focus on increasing the use of renewable energy, including the International Renewable Energy Agency and the Carbon War Room.”
But in The Bahamas, the climate change issue has been rarely spoken of, even prior to COVID-19 consuming the attention of the government, media and the general public.
Thomas, who spoke with National Review after the release of the IPCC report, suggested remaining quiet is not an option.
She said COP26, the global climate change discussions now underway in Glasgow, Scotland, “is absolutely the time that we need to raise our voices and also join with other regional groups to say ‘this is how climate change is already affecting us’.
“This report provides further evidence that there will be increased impacts even sooner than we thought and we need, number one, to reduce emissions in order to keep temperatures to 1.5, but also, number two, we need the support and most importantly, the financing, in order to adapt to climate change to reduce these impacts that we are already experiencing and that are only going to continue to get worse,” Thomas said.
“So, I think it’s really time for us to be more vocal in how climate change is affecting us and will continue to affect us, and we really need the larger countries to live up to some of the promises they have made in helping us adapt to climate change.”
Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis, who is in Glasgow, told National Review two weeks ago, his focus at the summit will be on seeing how The Bahamas as a small island developing state benefits from the Green Climate Fund, which was established as a financial mechanism to assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter the impact of climate change.
“We do appreciate that climate change is real and countries like ours are most vulnerable to the impact and effects of climate change, and we are the least among the nations to contribute to climate change, and climate conditions that we are now experiencing,” said Davis, before leaving for Scotland on Saturday.
“We will rally our allies to join our voices for better access, easier access to the Green [Climate] Fund in particular to assist us in building our resilience and to be able to withstand the impact and consequences of climate change. Our voice will be heard and I expect many will join me in holding accountable those who are responsible for climate change and having them contribute to our efforts to adapt and to mitigate against the consequences of climate change.”
• EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article was published in August 2021 after the release of a report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Its findings are worth revisiting in light of COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, underway in Glasgow, Scotland.