Coordinated response needed to fight threat of climate change
Recent extreme weather events have narrowed room for debate over global warming. Implementation of the 2016 Paris agreement must continue urgently, despite the defection of the United States
To people undecided between science and scepticism, the jury may still be out on global warming – but, surely, only just. Recent extreme weather events have narrowed room for debate and emboldened climate scientists to be less cautious in linking single events, rather than patterns of events, to man-made climate factors.
A sustained heatwave spanning much of the northern hemisphere, including most of the mainland, has proved the tipping point. To some places such as Greece and California it has brought death and destruction through wildfires. A rise in average temperatures is also held responsible for a distortion of atmospheric patterns that exacerbates unseasonal storms and floods.
None of this may have made much difference to the rhetoric of the climate-change deniers and the fossil-fuel lobby. But the mounting evidence has prompted many climate experts to link global warming to the northern summer heatwaves and warn that extremes will get worse for decades without urgent and sustained reductions in global emissions. At the same time a study by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, just published in the journal Nature Communications, says large parts of China are at risk of deadly heatwaves as a result of climate change in the latter part of this century. Increased frequency of heatwaves, with rising temperatures and increased humidity, could make the North China Plain, one of the country’s main food-growing regions, virtually uninhabitable before the end of the century. The massive plain spans 14 million hectares across five provinces, from Beijing in the north to Shanghai in the east, including Hebei, Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu and Shandong, and is home to about 400 million people.
The 2016 Paris agreement remains the world’s only framework for cooperative, accountable and transparent action to combat the threat of climate change, despite the defection of the United States under President Donald Trump. Thankfully China is leading by example and several US cities and states, particularly fire-ravaged California, remain committed to emissions reduction.
Implementation of the agreement must continue urgently. That is just the first step. Meteorological change can be expected to have an impact progressively on modern life, from housing to transport and health services. The United Nations must show the way for adaptation and coordinated response to unpredictable situations.
China and the US remain the biggest carbon emitters. Hong Kong obviously cannot make a comparable difference. But it can play a part out of proportion to its size by continuing to clean up the carbon emissions of energy generation and reducing the harmful roadside emissions of heavy vehicles and buses.