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Ripple Effects of Global Climate Change

Updated: Sep 12, 2018

It's undeniable that the earth's average temperatures have risen over the past six decades. A World Bank report entitled South Asia's Hotspots warns that in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka the temperatures have already surpassed their optimal limits. As temperatures rise, the atmosphere absorbs and retains more water vapour, exacerbating the quantity and intensity of rainfall. According to NASA, the earth's water cycle determines the global climate change (GCC) and its unpredictability.

The recent devastation in the southern Indian state of Kerala can certainly be linked to the rising temperatures. The catastrophic floods and dramatic downpour, as experienced nearly 100 years ago, have left almost 500 people dead and millions homeless.

This human made catastrophe has left five elephants and one tiger dead in Kerala - and these are only reported cases. Most of them were found dead near the Periyar National Park and near Wyanad district. The post-mortem results showed water inside the lungs of the animals: Kerala forest authorities are still trying to assess the damage caused in the forests.

This disoriented elephant calf strayed away, forest authorities returned him to forest

According to Care Ratings, more than four million jobs have been impacted by the floods thus far, and 3.3 million of them are in jeopardy. Tourism is expected to see a decline, at least in the short term, with the cost to rebuild structural damages pegged at $3.7 billion. The insurance claims are surging, as the overall economic damage is still being calculated.

In the past decade, the total loss related to GCC has been estimated at $US 1.4 trillion, with 1.7 billion people afflicted, and 700,000 dead, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Of graver concern is the ominous prediction that GCC is expected to cause 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report says, the climate-related impacts are bound to deepen poverty and in the long term, manifest as reduced crop yields, increased aridity, decreased water quality, and rising sea levels. Meanwhile, the World Bank warns that such extreme weather events will become more common, impacting people's livelihoods in unprecedented ways.

"Extreme precipitation events would cause an increase in damage and economic disruption, whereas decreasing precipitation would result in less overall water availability in South Asia, which would reduce agricultural yields and water security in some areas."

The South Asia's Hotspots report further expounds the impact of GCC on living standards through factors such as labor productivity, health, and migration. It says, days of extreme heat are correlated with lower worker productivity, especially in areas that are already warm. The report examines how a changing climate can force people to give up their high paying professions and settle for low income jobs.

"Translated into gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, changes in average weather are predicted to reduce income in severe hotspots by 14.4 percent in Bangladesh, 9.8 percent in India, and 10.0 percent in Sri Lanka by 2050 under the carbon-intensive scenario compared to the climate of today."

The WHO has also sounded alarm bells of vector-borne disease outbreak. Studies in Vietnam concluded that higher dengue is associated with higher rainfall, humidity and temperatures, thereby increasing the dengue burden with climate change. Stagnant waters from monsoons create the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes – vectors of dengue, malaria, and west nile viruses.

It's worth noting that scientists have long asserted that human activities are directly responsible for the rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon di-oxide, and methane that exacerbate GCC. In climate studies, scenarios representing GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentrations are called representative concentration pathways (RCPs). A collective global action undertaken to mitigate GHG emissions is considered a climate-sensitive scenario (RCP 4.5), whereas a "business as usual" approach, lacking mitigation efforts, a carbon-intensive scenario (RCP 8.5).

The World Bank report predicts that under the carbon-intensive scenario, more than half of South Asia will be a hotspot by 2050 with 45 percent of the present population —800 million people— living in areas projected to become moderate or severe hotspots. Under the climate-sensitive scenario, that number would be less than half – 375 million, or 21 percent of the population.

So why should developed nations worry about events unfolding in South Asia?

In the short term, internal displacement and cross-boundary migration will be exacerbated, according to the IPCC. In the long term, however, natural disasters in the developing nations will spill over, leaving the developed world to grapple with the climate refugee crises. This, according to a study entitled, Asylum Applications Respond to Temperature Fluctuations.

The authors have identified 103 countries that sought refuge from the European Union, and found that the number of people seeking asylum increased when seasons and temperatures changed from an optimal value of about 20 degree celsius.

"Holding everything else constant, asylum applications by the end of the century are predicted to increase, on average, by 28 percent (98,000 additional asylum applications per year) under RCP scenario 4.5 and by 188 percent (660,000 additional applications per year) under RCP 8.5."

In a nutshell, if nations took a "business as usual" approach, the number of asylum applicants would increase to 188 percent, as compared to an increase of some 28 per cent if nations took collective actions to mitigate GCC. Mass exodus from the developing nations could have a cascading effect with the influx of vector-borne diseases, potentially causing global pandemic outbreaks.

These findings demonstrate that mitigation efforts to minimize the effects of climate change, such as reducing GHG emissions, can positively affect living standards throughout the region, and alleviate the magnitude of climate refugee crises.

The World Bank report defines solutions that include building resilient communities at the highest level, combined with sustained economic growth and shared prosperity. In India, for instance, the report provides three options and associated benefits:

  1. Increasing the average educational attainment by 1.5 years can reduce the magnitude of decline in living standards from 2.8 percent to 2.4 percent

  2. Reducing water stress by 30 percent

  3. Increasing employment in nonagricultural sectors by 30 percent to yield similar benefits

The bottom line is this! What happens to one happens to the whole. It's about time the world leaders connected the dots, and joined forces to mitigate the looming climate crises, rather than deny the obvious.

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