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Biodiversity & Environment

The Big Picture- Rising Oceans, Sinking Cities

  • 12 Sep 2019
  • 11 min read

Oceans act as a sponge for the ill effects of climate change. They absorb the heat and CO2 generated by greenhouse gas emissions. However, the same oceans are today likely to unleash their wrath on a global scale.

According to a draft report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), destructive changes have already been set into motion. By the year 2050, many low-lying megacities and small island nations will experience extreme sea-level events every year. The final report is yet to be released in September after a thorough discussion with all the stakeholders.

Climate Change

  • The Earth's climate has changed throughout history. In the last 650,000 years, there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era, and of human civilization.
  • The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (almost greater than 95%) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and is proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.
  • The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of more than 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
  • Global sea level rose about 8 inches in the last century. The rate in the last two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century and is accelerating slightly every year.

Current Scenario

  • According to the draft report of the IPCC, the events that were expected to happen in the future such as increased number of cyclones, enhanced melting of glaciers, changed rainfall & wind flow pattern, changed chemistry of oceans, inter alia, are faced today itself by mankind.
  • The volume of water has also increased significantly in recent years due to
    • Melting of ice- presently almost 400 million tonnes of ice is melting every year, and
    • Thermal expansion of water (expansion due to the heating of water caused by global warming).
    • This poses a grave danger to the low-lying areas located throughout the world.
  • The number of Heatwaves (whereby the surface temperature of the oceans remains above normal for 2-5 consecutive days) & their intensity has increased significantly in the recent past. Their number is going to increase enormously in the times to come.

Findings From the Report

  • The report states that the big four namely, the United States of America, China, India, and the European Union will face the most devastating fall out of the ocean and ice-related impacts of climate change.
  • Although three of them (except India) have been the major contributors to this man-made problem, yet the biggest sufferers from climate change would be the smaller island nations & countries.
    • For e.g, Kiribati is expected to wipe out & Kiribas are looking for land in other places.
    • Indonesia recently changed its capital from Jakarta to Borneo due to the fear of submergence of the world’s fastest sinking city, i.e, Jakarta.
  • China’s emissions are peaking at an extremely high rate.
    • Its gross emissions are twice as that of the US (the second-largest emitter) & per-capita emissions of China are touching the average per-capita emissions of OECD countries.
  • According to the draft report, even if Paris agreement targets are met on time, global emissions will reach up to 3°C.
    • Paris agreement just ended the capping & fixed target system that was adopted during the Kyoto protocol, & introduced a new system known as the ‘Pledge & Review system.’

Kyoto Protocol

  • The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 and entered into force in 2005.
  • The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP-7 in Marrakesh, in 2001, and are referred to as the Marrakesh Accords.
  • Its first commitment period started in the year 2008 and ended in 2012.
  • Kyoto Protocol Phase-1 (2005-12) gave the target of cutting down emissions by 5%.
  • Kyoto Round- 2 gave the target of reducing emissions by at least 18% by the industrialized countries.

Global Actions Aggravating Climate Change

  • Paris agreement is losing its force today.
    • The US has withdrawn from the Paris agreements, and the US President was absent at the recently held G7 summit.
    • Even China is opening new coal mines because of its trade war with the US, thereby reducing its pollution control measures.
  • Brazil is ignoring the repercussions of ‘development’ on the environment. The recent example of which is the deadly amazon forest fires. The same is the case with Canada, Bolivia, & Australia.
  • Sustainable Development Goals are difficult to achieve if similar situations prevail.

Actions Required

  • Globally:
    • There is a closed relationship between water, land & cryosphere. There is a need to adequately address and appreciate that relationship globally.
    • Oceans cover three-fourths of the globe. A large number of fishermen & the economy of various countries are dependent upon the oceans.
      • Because of global warming, pollution, oil spills, etc. oceans are badly abused. Hence, there is a need for aggressive cuts & a reduction in the abuse of oceans.
    • Costs of adaptation of mitigation measures are highly uncertain & no country in the world is prepared today to face climate change. Hence, both developed & developing economies need to take a dramatic shift & percolate down the efforts through societies on a war-footing level.
    • If serious actions are taken immediately, it is possible to restrict the temperature rise to 1.5° C.
  • At India’s level:
    • Apart from adaptation, the need of the hour is to avert & delay the calamity by promoting the non-fossil fuels. India has already achieved its reduction targets, & is now raising the targets, focussing on renewable energies.
      • For e.g, India has met its Solar capacity installation targets.
    • India needs to calibrate its developmental programs to ensure that it performs better than industrialized nations. Such areas include
      • Road transport- that is given considerable importance today. But we need to look at the environmental costs it raises for the nation.
      • Railways network can be upgraded much more cheaply in a more eco-friendly manner to complement the road network.
    • India is doing well as compared to other countries on the basis of its Paris targets. Diplomatically, India needs to look at its actions that can be matched abroad like
      • India in collaboration with France launched the International Solar Alliance. The need is to take the leadership & pressurize other countries in terms of diplomacy on the issue of reducing their emission targets.

Way Forward

  • The challenges of droughts, shrinking & sinking cities, high temperatures that we face today demand much more aggressive efforts. The time for action has come.
  • China’s resolve to prepone & fulfill its NDC targets from 2030 to 2025 is a welcome step in mitigating climate change.
  • There are certain sectors & industries which are harmful to the environment. Because of the fear of loss of jobs in such industries (e.g automobile sector), nations have to keep them alive & sustaining. There is a need to identify viable alternatives for such industries.
  • Oceans are going to increase further. There is a need to plan and prepare for the suitable rehabilitation program for the affected people (also known as Ecological Refugees). Nations need to appropriately identify the required efforts to relocate them properly, & the associated costs with their rehabilitation.
    • This issue gains much significance in the Indian context which has 7500 km long coastline, on which many megacities are situated.
    • The need is to avoid any forced eviction of people, and empower & invest in local coastal communities, so as to avert similar situations in the future.
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