30 Sep In The Hot Seat: Climate, Energy And Converging Crises
In The Hot Seat: Climate, Energy And Converging Crises
We’ve been hearing it for years, and yet some people still deny that the earth’s climate and natural environment is changing.
To be fair, even climate change denialists have changed their tone – although some still debate whether the progression and trajectory of climate change is something which humans can control.
Let’s take a look…
The state of the earth
Irrespective of your personal views on the matter, we’ll represent the scientific findings and facts here as cited by reputable scientific and exploratory bodies.
– Earth’s temperature increased by 0,08°C per decade from 1880 to 1981.
– From 1981 onwards the earth’s temperature has increased with 0,32°C per decade.
– The average land and ocean surface temperature measured in 2021 was 0,84°C warmer than the 20th century average and 1,04°C warmer than the pre-industrial period (1880 – 1990)
– The 10 warmest years on record all occurred from 2013 onward
– Global carbon dioxide has risen by 365 ppm in 2002 to 400 ppm in 2022.
– The parts per million carbon dioxide molecule measurement is directly linked to human activities, which have increased this saturation by 50% since the 18th century. The current value is 150% of the value in 1750.
– The abovementioned increase is greater than the measured CO₂ at the end of the last ice age 20 000 years ago.
– Arctic sea ice is shrinking at a rate of 13% per decade.
– Sea levels have risen by 101,4 millimetres since 1993 due to melting ice sheets and glaciers as well as the expansion of water as it warms.
– While the rising sea levels have helped to absorb much of the rising global temperatures, the rising ocean temperatures contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in turn and also lead to mass environmental degradation through changing sea currents, coral bleaching, reduced oxygenation, food-chain disruptions and more.
– Rising ocean temperatures are the primary contributing factor to intensifying hurricanes, cyclones and other meteorological systems.
– 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation since we’re removing the very natural resources that can counteract CO₂ emissions through photosynthesis.
– Climate change has killed off 14% of the World’s coral reefs in the past decade.
– Rising ocean temperatures affect the earth’s upper climate, creating novel storms, droughts and animal migrations which will require massive interventions for local communities to adapt to changing conditions and adapt their living conditions and trades for sustained economic development.
What does this mean?
In a nutshell – none of the points mentioned above are positive.
The Catch-22 we’re facing is the conflagration created by overlapping crises of a divergent nature.
Ironically, while most governments are concerned with the economic impact of circumventing climate change, the University of Massachusetts Political Economy and Research Institute released a study which indicates that job creation aimed at addressing natural climate solutions is six times higher (and more lucrative) than the oil and gas industries combined.
Considering the current energy crisis faced by Europe, the UK and many other nations, it’s obvious that there is a significant imbalance in required energy resources, types of energy resources and distribution of such – most importantly: acquisition and usage of these resources are some of the most significant contributors to climate change itself.
To put it succinctly: the gas shortages, oil shortages, and depleted water levels which prompt the requirement for more natural resources simply contribute to a need for more resources. The more we need, the more we create the need.
A report published by Oxfam indicated that by 2030 the climate crisis will kill approximately 231 000 people in poor countries per year.
Who are the culprits?
Well, this all depends on how you crunch the data. China is the highest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions per annum with 13 400 metric tons of carbon dioxide released per year. However, this estimate is based on country contribution per year, not on cumulative emissions, nor emissions per capita.
The United States is by far the greatest contributor overall, with 597 963 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted from 1850 to 2018 (compared to China’s 313 755 and the entire EU’s 385 332). The country emits 3,3 times more greenhouse gas per capita than the global average.
Studies indicate that the Trump administration’s dismantling of clean power plans essentially created a scenario where the country will emit more than additional 400 million tons of CO₂ emissions by 2030, while the trajectory was to reduce emissions by 70 million tons by 2020. The country has also increased their Solar PV installations by 140% and wind installations by 45% year-on-year as measured after the first quarter of 2022. These green energy initiatives have put the country on track as the fastest growing green energy sector in the world with the steepest emission decline globally. The country is known for its strict imposition of regulations – which makes it quite remarkable that they’ve pledged to reach carbon neutrality within 30 years (compared to the EU’s 71 years). The World Bank indicates that China has accounted for more than 50% of global energy savings since 2005. The country’s carbon neutrality goals released in 2020 indicate that they aim to reach 80% clean energy consumption by 2060. China has furthermore ranked the highest among 236 countries and territories measured for reforestation efforts – replenishing forest cover form 157 million hectares in 1990 to 220 million hectares in 2020 as stated in a study published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
It should be noted that certain climate change trackers present quite a different picture. Climate Action Tracker, a purported scientific body established by two research bodies is one entity which has come under fire for misrepresenting data. Their data representations have been questioned in the UN’s Natural Climate Change publication “Ethical choices behind quantifications of fair contributions under the Paris Agreement” and they’ve also been chastised by the Stockholm Environment Institute. The greatest criticism seems to be around missing data points – such as citing emissions per country while not accounting for overall population, population density or cumulative climatic impact. Climate Action Tracker have also been criticised for using one model exclusively (MAGICC) – the greatest critics of the modelling are experienced data and development specialists who feel strongly that no single system can be used as a guideline indefinitely.
While developing nations aren’t the major contributors to environmental degradation, the important point throughout all learnings is that each and every person on earth has an equal responsibility towards our resources. Those who are more affluent can intervene more readily, but this is no get-out-of-jail pass for those who earn less. Nor can those who earn less blame the rich for their impact. Their responsibilities are clear, but the only way to effect lasting change is through social engagement across borders, cultures, economies and hierarchies.
Misrepresented stats and squabbles
Sivan Kartha, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute notes that such misrepresentation of data is not merely misleading, it is harmful. Something which we saw time and again during the global Covid-19 crisis and which still lingers and explodes on social media.
Kartha notes that there’s an odd bias amongst ‘grandfather’ emitters which postulates that the inherited emissions justify their expectations that others should reduce and intervene as much as them (if not more). This is clearly a nonsensical expectation when one considers that the entire African continent contributes but 2% of global emissions.
As with all scientific data, it’s important that numbers be quantified, equated and contextualised. A renowned South African agricultural expert painted the picture quite vividly: when there is drought or shortage you cannot reduce feed for all animals in whole chunks – the smallest and weakest will starve if you reduce their feed in volume akin to reduction of fully grown, healthy adults. Or, as stated by a contributing dietician to the study – it’s logical and healthy to prompt an adult human weighing 180 kg to lose 50% of their body weight, but one cannot expect someone weighing 50 kg to do the same.
Scientific data is nonsensical unless it is contextualised and accounts for proportionality.
Contribution vs reduction
Additionally, one has to consider which countries have taken the greatest strides towards reducing their emissions. As noted by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the WEF Davos Agenda 2022: while India is home to 17% of the world’s population, their emissions are but 5% of global carbon emissions while they are expected to commit to climate challenges 100%. The World Inequality Lab echoed these sentiments with data indicating that the richest 10% are responsible for nearly 48% of GHG emissions alone. The Oxfam report further indicates that lower income countries have increasingly embrace renewable energy resources despite the economic impact of implementing such measures, while affluent countries have increasingly complained and opposed green initiatives and regulations.
The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air notes that while China is still the greatest contributor per annum, they have the longest sustained drop in emissions over the past decade in the world. The country has continuously managed to decrease their thermal power generation, cement output and refined oil consumption.
Another aspect which many who look at stats at a glance seem to look past is that many developed nations have managed their positive outcomes by transferring their emissions to developing nations. Strategic choices have seen them source products formerly produced and manufactured locally to other nations in order to reduce harmful environmental impact on their own citizens and resources.
This practice is known as emission outsourcing. It’s not entirely novel – South Africa has, for instance, been paid well by numerous nations worldwide for decades to take in their nuclear waste and bury this waste below the arid soil of the Northern Cape.
Another little irony embedded in this is of course that countries receive economic compensation and privileges based on their carbon footprint. Those who emit least receive compensation from those who emit most…who receive more compensation as a result.
Aimee Ambrose of Sheffield Hallam University and author of an emission study published in the journal Science Direct notes that the only way to reverse the acceleration of climate change is via wealthy nations. This cannot be achieved while outsourcing of environmental degradation is allowed.
While wealthier persons have the means to incorporate more energy efficient products, they are also the highest consumers of space and goods.
International agreements and interventions
The most prominent global ‘pledges’ for counteracting human contributions to climate change are undoubtedly the Montreal Protocol, the Kigali Amendment, Kyoto Protocol, UNFCCC and Paris Agreement. These international commitments are facilitated via the UN’s international climate conference, the last of which took place in November 2021.
The Paris Agreement is the latest among these and was signed between participant governments in 2015 with a review every five years. The agreement indicated a commitment to prevent global average temperature increase from rising more than 2°C and a more ambitious goal of keeping this below 1,5°C.
In 2020 the world’s 2nd largest contributor to climate change, the USA, withdrew from the Paris accord. This move was reversed by President Biden during the first months in office.
More than 200 scientists from more than 60 countries drafted a report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which indicated that a global temperature increase which exceeds 1,5°C will create irreversible damage and accelerate the degradation of our resources. Such irreversible damage will include loss of life through storms, flooding, drought, ecosystem desecration, biome disruption, a wipeout of 90% of coral reefs, perpetual Arctic summers. Should this global average rise above 2°C the outlook is even more devastating.
Agreements are perhaps only as strong as their opposing agreements. The hard line drawn against Russia for their invasion of Ukraine is definitely warranted as a hypothetical, but its practical implications are quite devastating. Not only is the war opening the door for each and all to renege on their clean energy commitments, but it’s setting everyone up as the loser – it’s fuelling the fate and failure for generations to come. There are no winners in war.
Energy crisis in context
While we’ve covered the gist of the climate crisis, we need to contextualise this within the current energy crisis.
– High temperatures during the northern hemisphere’s 2022 summer have seen a drastic reduction in natural water sources, especially in Europe.
– Due to the Ukraine crisis and sanctions imposed on Russia, the country has reduced supply of natural gas and oil to other countries, been barred from supplying these or been restricted by opposing nations which has drastically reduced energy supply to Europe in particular
– Reduced water levels: have reduced the amount of natural water available to nuclear power plants both for cooling purposes and in terms of their allowed redistribution of heated water into the environment; lower water levels prohibit transport of coal and other energy sources via barges as thoroughfare is restricted; Norway which supplies the bulk of the EU’s hydroelectricity has been compelled to reduce their energy supply to the EU given that they are not an EU member and local critique has compelled the nation to focus their resources on internal supply.
– Rising oil and gas prices have led to a logistical backlog as many suppliers have been compelled to either reduce supply or delay supply in order to gather enough to-and-from supplies to warrant travel.
– Rising inflation and transport costs have seen a reduction in workforce as many people simply cannot afford travel to and from work.
– The Covid-19 crisis compelled many people to exhaust their socio-economic resources and benefits with no further allowances available.
– Visa and travel restrictions have curbed the influx of ‘cheap’ labour from emerging economies, leading to massive workforce reductions – especially in logistics, travel, tourism and menial labour (refer to our previous article on Schengen visas).
What’s the verdict?
With clients across the globe Rand Rescue certainly doesn’t want to impose any rules or make decisions for our readers – it would be callous to do so. While the energy crisis is currently felt most vividly in Europe, the knock-on which will affect developing economies like South Africa is bound to hit us hard at some point.
We’ll give you an overview of countries and regions which are most buffered from the impact of climate change in a coming article.
For now, we encourage you to leave your details below and engage with us around your plans for emigration (if you’re still heading out), or discuss options for financial asset transfer across borders if you’re already abroad.
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