Facing the reality of climate change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is due to release its Fifth Assessment Report. It is expected to reinforce predictions of rising sea levels and of the increasing likelihood of heat waves and other extreme weather, but Australia should be paying particular attention to the estimated trajectory of likely warming and its impact on our Asian neighbours.

Several months ago the World Bank released its report “Turn Down the Heat”. The President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim, warned that a 2 degree Celsius warmer world,“ which could be upon us as early as the 2030’s or 2040’s”, would result in shifting rain patterns in South Asia leaving some cities underwater and others without enough water for power generation, agriculture and even for drinking.  In South East Asia rural livelihoods would be threatened as sea levels rise, tropical cyclones increase in intensity and marine eco-systems are lost. Some estimate that fisheries around the Philippines could be reduced as much as 50 per cent. It concluded that cities like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta and Manilla would be especially threatened by the rising sea levels.

The assessment is consistent with this assessment made in a WikiLeaks diplomatic cable:

With a decades-long history of land subsidence similar to that of New Orleans, rising sea levels now threaten the 12 million people of Bangkok with inundation by 2050. ESTHoff and Embassy Science Fellow met with various academic and government actors over several weeks to discuss climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies for Bangkok. Inundation scenarios threaten the rice paddies of the Bangkok plain that contribute to Thailand’s status as the number one global rice exporter. Other Asian mega-cities such as Jakarta [current population over 10 million] and Ho Chi Minh City [current population over 9 million] face similar inundation scenarios.

This information, and governmental response or lack of it, feeds into remarks made by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges in May this year during an interview about the monitoring of Associated Press phones:

“And I find the passivity on the part of the mainstream press, publications like The New York Times, The Guardian, El País, Der Spiegel, all of which, of course, used this information, and turning their backs on Manning and Assange, to be very shortsighted for precisely this reason. If they think it’s just about Manning and Assange, then they have no conception of what it is that’s happening. And, you know, everyone knows, within the administration, within the National Security Council, the effects of climate change, the instability that that will cause, the economic deterioration, which is irreversible, and they want the mechanisms by which they can criminalize any form of dissent. And that’s finally what this is about.”

Hedges’ observations fit squarely with the Abbott Government wasting no time to abolish the Climate Commission and announcing its plans to prosecute conservation groups seeking boycotts of products linked to alleged poor environmental practices: contain public concern by limiting information and try to stifle legitimate dissent.

Certainly the Pentagon is already assessing the effects of and making preparations for the potential impacts of climate change on global food and water scarcity, mass migration and the potential for conflict.  Australia’s 2013 Defence White Paper makes it clear that, “…The risks associated with resource insecurity may be exacerbated by changes in the global climate system. The inundation of low-lying regions, more frequent and severe natural disasters and shifts in rainfall patterns would lead to loss of agricultural production in some areas and potentially large-scale human migration. The combination of the effects of climate change and resource pressures will increase the risk of insecurity and conflict, particularly internal instability in fragile states, many of which have increasingly large populations in areas that will be affected by climate change…”

In coming decades the world faces the risk of major regional food and water crises leading to conflicts and mass refugee movements which will be exacerbated by the effects of climate change and financial speculation in the food and water markets. Already concerns are mounting over worsening food security in Sri Lanka and realisations that South Asia might face water scarcity by 2030 due to climate change. Mathematical modelling can predict social unrest by identifying “a very well-defined threshold [for food prices] above which food riots break out” and as recently as last week policy makers in the United States were being urged to consider the link of food prices to conflict.

Now is not the time for the Abbott Government to cut foreign aid, to abandon progressive climate change policies or targets, or to over inflate the extent of Australia’s current asylum seeker issues when we see the challenges we will soon face.  We need forward thinking and advance planning, not denial and repression. We are part of the Asia-Pacific region that is likely to be catastrophically affected and trying to pull down the shutters just won’t work.

Now is the time to increase Australia’s foreign aid budget, combined with programs to assist farmers in the Asia-Pacific region. Now is the time to re-invest in agricultural and food research and development, which would also create export markets that employ young and Indigenous Australians.

Now is the time to respect the findings of the IPCC, to shun policies based on insularity, and in cooperation with our neighbours to develop and implement long term policies and strategies for the region.

Copyright 2013 Kellie Tranter

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