Global warming

The heat trap

Print edition : August 23, 2013

The Geo-Cosmos, 6.5 m in diameter, displaying a simulation of global warming in 2100, at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. Red colour signifies a 3-degree increase in the temperature of the air just above the surface from its level in 1990; black represents no change. Nearly all the globe becomes red when the simulation reaches 2100. Photo: AFP

A World Bank report on climate change warns that a warmer world will trap millions in poverty.

“Much of the advance of European capitalists and other members of the European ruling class was at the cost of the colonised and enslaved peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America,” says Amiya Kumar Bagchi in his book “Perilous Passage: Mankind and the Global Ascendancy of Capital.”

Capitalist expansion following the Industrial Revolution involved unmitigated exploitation of natural resources and world labour. The search for profit led to the colonisation of the world and the pauperisation of much of what is today called the Global South. The over-exploitation of fossil fuels and other natural resources has meant that climate change has become an imminent threat. Underdeveloped nations will continue to bear the brunt of global warming.

A scientific report commissioned by the World Bank, “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience”, looks at the possible impact of global warming by 2 °Celsius, and 4 °C on the most vulnerable parts of the world.

It describes the risks to agriculture and livelihood security in Sub-Saharan Africa; the likely rise in sea level, loss of coral reefs and devastation to coastal areas in South-East Asia; and the possibility of fluctuating water resources in South Asia.

It says droughts, floods, heat waves, sea level rises and fiercer storms will cause severe hardship in areas that are already poor or are emerging from poverty.

Food shortages will be among the first consequences within two decades, along with migration as people try to escape the effects.

South Asia: Global warming could lead to more droughts, water scarcity, extremely hot summers, severe flooding, and poor food production in South Asia, including India, Inconsistencies in monsoon rainfall and unusually high temperatures will affect crops. Loss of snow melt from the Himalayas will reduce the flow of water into the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra basins. Together, they will leave hundreds of millions of people without enough water, food, or access to reliable energy. Bangladesh and the Indian cities of Kolkata and Mumbai will be confronted with increased flooding, intense cyclones, sea level rises, and higher temperatures.

South-East Asia: In South-East Asia, coastal cities will be under intense stress due to climate change. A sea level rise of 30 cm, possible by 2040 if business as usual continues, will cause massive flooding in cities and inundate low-lying cropland with saltwater. Vietnam’s Mekong delta, a global rice bowl, is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. A 30-cm sea level rise there could result in the loss of about 11 per cent of crop production. Storm intensity is likely to increase.

The study also describes rising ocean acidity leading to the loss of coral reefs and the benefits they provide as fish habitats and revenue generators in the form of tourist attraction. Warmer water temperatures and habitat destruction could also lead to a 50 per cent decrease in the ocean fish catch in the southern Philippines.

Sub-Saharan Africa: In Sub-Saharan Africa, the researchers found that food security would be the overarching challenge, with dangers from droughts, flooding and shifts in rainfall. With 1.5 °C-2 °C warming, drought and aridity will contribute to the loss of 40-80 per cent of cropland.

In a world warmer by 4 °C, around 2080s annual precipitation may decrease by up to 30 per cent in southern Africa, while East Africa will see more rainfall, according to multiple studies. Ecosystem changes to pastoral lands, such as a shift from grass to woodland savannas as the levels of carbon dioxide increase, could reduce food for grazing cattle.

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