World leaders will gather in Doha this week to discuss the fate of our planet whose future now hangs in the balance. According to the World Bank, global temperatures may rise by 4 degrees Celsius as early as 2060. This will usher in changes not seen since the last Ice Age.
"It is my hope that this report shocks us into action. It is a stark reminder that climate change affects everything. There is no certainty that adaptation to a 4 degrees Celsius world is even possible. And this magnitude of climate change -- human-induced -- is occurring over a century, not millennia. A 4 degrees Celsius world can, and must, be avoided."
According to the World Bank, extreme weather will thus become the "new normal." It says that even if all nations rein in their carbon emissions, there is still a 20 percent chance that our planet will warm by 4 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. This is owing to all the carbon dioxide still trapped in the Earth's atmosphere; it takes hundreds of years for such greenhouse gases to be reabsorbed by the planet.
In this much hotter world, sea levels will rise by at least three feet. The warmest July in the Mediterranean will be around 9 degrees warmer than it is today, making it as hot as parts of the Libyan desert. And, water scarcity and devastated crop yields will exacerbate global hunger, making the food riots of 2008 seem quite tame indeed.
This stark warning by the World Bank is one of many that has been issued by a global body in recent weeks. The UN, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and PricewaterhouseCoopers have all released similar findings, highlighting the urgency required to tackle this grave issue which will affect all life on earth.
So, as world leaders gather in Doha this week, they may have to go much further than simply extending and ratifying the Kyoto Protocol which was established in 1997 to curb global carbon dioxide emissions. They may have to start planning for how their individual nations will survive in this significantly hotter world.
According to a recent report commissioned by the CIA, "significant burdens of adaptation will be imposed on all societies and unusually severe climate perturbations will be encountered in some parts of the world over the next decade with an increasing frequency and severity thereafter."
Concerned about the staggering price that this will cost in the future, a coalition of the world's largest investors has called on global leaders to bring about the changes urgently required to slow the warming of our planet. Responsible for managing over $22 trillion in assets, they say that if the right policies were in place, it would encourage further investment into cleaner power and energy efficiency.
According to the IEA, both measures are desperately needed in order to stave off the worst effects of global warming. It says that the window for controlling this crisis is still open, but we have but a few years.
This collective call for action comes one month after super storm Sandy unleashed some $50 billion in damages as it swept across the northeastern seaboard of the United States to leave much of New York City submerged under water. Creating scenes reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster movie, the storm was a brutal reminder of what the future may hold if global warming continues to run riot.
In the words of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg: "The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action." The super storm came after a U.S. summer of horrendous heat waves, biblical floods and the worst drought in over half a century. And, although such weather is frightening, it is a product of a mere 0.8 degrees Celsius temperature rise.
By mentioning climate change in his victory speech, President Barack Obama has stoked hopes that he will not only fight global warming during his final term, but make it part of his overall legacy. In the wake of the storm, members from both the business and environmental community have been calling on the president to spearhead action on the matter.
In the words of Pa Ousman Jarju, a member of the UN climate negotiations: "As the world's largest economy, the US has a unique opportunity and responsibility to take bold action on this issue. Indeed, the well being of the citizens of your nation and mine depends on your ability to lead at this critical juncture."
Leading by example, America will have to ramp up investment into cleaner power, continue to replace coal with gas, and push for increased energy efficiency. And, although the motion was recently rejected by Congress, Washington will eventually have to put a price on carbon, either through a cap and trade system, or a tax. As the Financial Times points out, "at a time when the country is badly in need of extra revenues, a levy on carbon or energy would be a better solution than taxes on pay or profits."
This summer, Obama took the largest step of any president to date when he raised fuel efficiency standards for cars. But now, as the fate of our planet hangs in the balance, he has to deliver on the big changes required to move both the U.S. and the world towards a low carbon future that our children's children will be able to enjoy. In his own words:
"I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics who tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. That's why we do this. That's what politics can be. It's not small. It's important."