Three years after the Paris Agreement on climate change and global warming there is renewed focus on this controversial issue with a major United Nations conference now taking place in the Polish city of Katowice. This is the first such meeting since the landmark report in October by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which declared drastic action is required to avert a world disaster precipitated by climate change. Given the importance of this issue to a country like The Bahamas, we draw attention to it again in these columns.
Since many of the islands of our archipelago are low-lying and prone to flooding, coastal areas are vulnerable to rising sea levels as a result of global warming that is also likely to damage our coral reefs. Many consider this menace to be potentially worse than the effects of hurricanes. Higher sea levels constitute a real threat to the living conditions, property and even the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens. Severe flooding would also hamper our vital tourism industry.
The 2015 Paris Agreement, now ratified by 184 countries including The Bahamas, set out a global plan to limit global warming to less than two percent above pre-industrial levels. The goal of the Katowice conference is to agree a work programme to ensure the agreement’s effective operation by cutting greenhouse emissions, not least by reducing radically the use of fossil fuels to create energy. This is described as a mainly technical meeting but it is of considerable significance since some 30 heads of state were due to make statements at its opening session.
It has gradually become clear most people accept the existence of climate change and global warming. The World Meteorological Organisation warns that average global temperatures have increased substantially over the last 20 years and the incidence of deadly wild fires, heatwaves and droughts is clear for all to see. However, despite the judgment of those claiming to be the world’s leading climate scientists, sceptics remain unconvinced that the actions of humans materially contribute to this. Nonetheless, in light of all the evidence it can be reasonably inferred that excessive carbon emissions pumped into the atmosphere are likely to have some damaging effect through pollution of the environment.
For the doubters – including perhaps even President Trump who announced the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement - the intervention by Sir David Attenborough, Britain’s legendary expert presenter on wildlife and natural history, at the Katowice conference could prove to be telling. In a strongly worded speech - as someone recently persuaded by the strength of the scientific evidence - he issued a stark warning that the world was facing a man-made disaster. It could lead, he said, to extinction of much of the natural world and a collapse of civilisations; and, as such, it was the greatest threat to the world in thousands of years. It was, therefore, essential for governments to co-operate in the drastic cutting of greenhouse gases and air pollution.
Some will have been shocked by this apocalyptic view by such a respected figure who has become convinced humanity is affecting climate change and that there is a link between the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere and the growth of human populations and industrialisation. It is not yet clear what effect his remarks will have on the deliberations at Katowice. But, reportedly, there are already murmurings about some of the main players not living up to their Paris Agreement obligations to cut greenhouse gases.
For The Bahamas - categorised as a Small Island Developing State - already vulnerable to the effects of global warming, this should surely be a stark warning that the issue ought to be given the utmost priority. As a signatory of the Paris Agreement, we are committed to taking action on climate change. We believe we should work together with our CARICOM partners in coordinating protective measures on a regional basis in face of the likely long-term danger and at the same time develop more effectively alternative renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.
We hope as well that those responsible in government for such matters will have noted the announcement by the World Bank at the Katowice conference that it is doubling its investment to support action related to climate change and is making $200 billion available to help countries to counter the impact of global warming in their territories.
Now is the time to build up our sea defences across-the-board. If we are strapped for cash, as the Government will undoubtedly claim, World Bank funding should be sought in order to launch such a nationwide project. Above all, given the seriousness of the situation facing the planet and the specific danger to us in The Bahamas, today’s FNM Government owes the public a report about how as a nation we are meeting our international obligations under the Paris Agreement. We also need to know what action is being taken to protect our own country against the likely long-term effects of global warming.