Climate catastrophe is now looking inevitable. We have simply left it too late to hold rising global temperatures to under 1.5C and so prevent a future of drowned coasts, ruined coral reefs, spreading deserts and melted glaciers.
At the same time, prospects of reaching global deals to halt emissions have been weakened by the spread of rightwing populism.
Svetlana Jevrejeva, at the National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool, has studied sea-level rises that will be triggered by melting ice sheets and expanding warm seawater in a world 3-5C hotter than it was in pre-industrial times, and concludes these could reach 0.74 to 1.8 metres by 2100. This would be enough to deluge Pacific and Indian Ocean island states and displace millions from Miami, Guangzhou, Mumbai and other low-lying cities. The total cost to the planet could top £11trillion.
Earth’s population stands at seven billion today and is predicted to rise to nine billion by 2050 and settle at over 11 billion by 2100 – when climate change will have wrecked major ecosystems and turned farmlands to dust bowls.
Unfortunately many experts believe Earth’s population will actually peak well beyond 11 billion. “It could reach 15 billion,” said Sarah Harper, of Oxford’s Institute of Population Ageing. “All sorts of factors suggest women, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, will still want to have relatively high numbers of children and this might keep the world’s population approaching 15 billion rather than 12 billion.”
In the past few years climate change has killed 70% of its livestock and forced tens of thousands of families to flee from its scorched interior to live in refugee camps. “You can touch it, the climate change, in Somaliland. It is real. It is here,” the country’s environment minister, Shukri Ismail Bandare, said in the Financial Times last week.
Sudan and Kenya are also victims of a drought that has dried the Horn of Africa faster than at any other time in the past 2,000 years. Similarly, in Vietnam, thousands a year are abandoning the once fertile Mekong Delta as rising seawater pollutes paddy fields. By 2050, the World Bank says more than 140 million will become climate refugees.
But the most telling example is provided by the US, which has emitted about a third of the carbon responsible for global warming. Yet it has essentially done nothing to check its annual rises in output. Lobbying by the fossil fuel industry has proved highly effective at blocking political change – a point most recently demonstrated by groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Heartland Institute, which helped persuade President Trump to pull out of the Paris agreement, thus dashing the planet’s last hope of ecological salvation. “The coalition used its power to slow us down precisely at the moment when we needed to speed up,” said the environmentalist Bill McKibben in the New Yorker. “As a result, the particular politics of one country for one half-century will have changed the geological history of the Earth.”
No region of the US has more to lose from climate change than southern Florida. If scientists’ worst predictions are realised, an entire metropolitan area, currently inhabited by more than six million people, is likely to be swamped by a 1.5-metre sea-level rise before the end of this century, a rise that could see the tourist mecca of Miami simply disappear.
It’s a doomsday scenario that has united the leaders of Miami-Dade county and the cities of Miami and Miami Beach in an attempt to find solutions to the most severe effects of rising oceans before it is too late. Their plan to combat the physical, economic and social challenges of climate change, as part of the global 100 Resilient Cities programme, will play a key role in determining whether the low-lying region will still be habitable in the coming decades or surrendered to the ever-rising Atlantic.
“It’s a problem that can be managed, it’s not a problem that can be fixed and you walk away from,” said Susanne Torriente, chief resilience officer for Miami Beach, where hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars have already been spent elevating roads, constructing higher sea walls and investing in modern, high-capacity pumps and stormwater drainage systems.
“Every generation will add to the work that we have begun,” Torriente says. “We are always learning, it’s a constant process of learning, re-evaluating and improving.”
Read the complete article on The Guardian news site here.