A man stands on a stranded car on a flooded road after heavy rainfall in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China, on July 22. More than 290 have died as a result of the unprecedented flash floods. Scientists warn that more such extreme weather can be expected. Photo: Reuters
Outside In
by David Dodwell
Outside In
by David Dodwell

‘Code red’ climate emergency: alarming complacency endures over tackling the crisis

  • With fewer than 100 days until the UN climate summit, there is still a shocking disconnect between the urgent action needed to keep us from catastrophe and the middle-class ignorance of the problem at hand
If you want to see the huge chasm that lies between the “ code red” climate warning from the world’s scientists this week and the agenda driven by the British government, host of the critically important COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow in November, look no further than Allegra Stratton, Boris Johnson’s summit spokeswoman.

She listed “micro-steps” people can consider as we strive towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050: “Did you know [ …] you don’t really need to rinse your dishes before they go into the dishwasher?” Asked if she planned to exchange her diesel car for an electric one, she said: “I don’t fancy it just yet.”

Opposition environment secretary Luke Pollard was quick to pounce: “The planet is on fire and we are living in a climate and ecological emergency. If the government’s best answer is rinsing dishes, we are in serious trouble.”

Pollard – and the 234 global climate scientists who last Monday released the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Sixth Assessment Report, which rang new alarm bells over the gravity of the climate crisis – would be right to throw up their hands in despair.

But Stratton reflects accurately the alarming disconnect between the urgent global action needed to prevent a descent into a hothouse “hell on Earth”, and the middle-class ignorance and complacency that allows many to think that tinkering around the edges of our comfortable lives is enough.


Global warming dangerously close to being out of control: US climate report

Global warming dangerously close to being out of control: US climate report

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the IPCC report “a code red for humanity”, warning there was “no time for delay and no room for excuses”. The report called for “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” if runaway, irreversible climate shifts are not to make life on Earth unliveable.

This report says nothing that previous reports have not said, but brings more scientific confirmation, and rising detail and certainty over the alarming pace of global warming.
The past five years were the hottest on record since 1850, and the Earth is warmer than in the past 125,000 years; Arctic sea ice is at its lowest for at least 1,000 years; the pace of glacier retreat is unparalleled in 2,000 years.

Oceans are acidifying, and warming faster than at any point in the past 11,000 years; there is more carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere than in the past 2 million years, and more methane than in 800,000 years.


Grim warning for Hong Kong as UN releases major report on climate crisis

Grim warning for Hong Kong as UN releases major report on climate crisis

The report provides graphic evidence of the catastrophic implications – rising heatwave exposure, disruption of water supplies and spreading droughts, threats to power supplies, collapses in crop yields and significant habitat degradation.

It identifies “tipping points” linked to the melting of permafrost, ice-sheet collapse, massive forest loss and complete redirection of ocean circulation that would make much of the world unliveable for us. It points to hundreds of millions forced to move as sea levels rise.

In Asia, it foresees more (and more severe) marine heatwaves, more ferocious fire seasons, more rain and flooding from monsoons and typhoons. Sea levels will rise faster than anywhere else.


China floods death toll triples after Henan officials revise figures, announce investigation

China floods death toll triples after Henan officials revise figures, announce investigation
All this was foreseen and analysed before this year’s unprecedented weather-driven harm – historically catastrophic flooding across Europe and in the heart of China, record heatwaves in Canada and northern Russia, and savage wildfires across California, Australia and the eastern Mediterranean.

In Siberia, Russia reported fires across Yakutia stretching almost 170 sq km – nearly the size of Guangdong province – and Nasa reported smoke from Siberian wildfires over the North Pole for the first time in recorded history.

The stage is set for some very hard climate talks in Glasgow – and we are not talking about whether to rinse dishes going into the dishwasher. G7 leaders who met in Cornwall last April reaffirmed commitments to net zero by 2050 and G20 leaders followed quickly after.

Climate deals to achieve net zero carbon emissions? Possible but very hard

But precious few countries have fleshed out these grand commitments, few leaders are wrestling with the changes needed, and almost none has begun preparing their communities.

US President Joe Biden said in April: “This is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of a climate crisis […] Good ideas and good intentions are not good enough.” Yet he is light years from winning political support for the necessary steps – eliminating fossil fuels, electrifying all vehicles, cutting beef from our diets.

Nor are other countries much better prepared to decarbonise our lifestyles. There can be no solution without China, which accounts for over a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions and around half of global coal consumption.


China launches world’s largest carbon-trading scheme as part of 2060 carbon neutrality goal

China launches world’s largest carbon-trading scheme as part of 2060 carbon neutrality goal
There are other deal breakers. The richest countries have failed to live up to their US$100 billion-a-year commitment to help developing nations cope with climate change.

Many have groaned at the huge cost of getting to net-zero carbon – estimated by the Energy Transitions Commission at US$1 trillion-US$2 trillion a year. Yet fossil fuel subsidies worldwide already amount to about 6.5 per cent of the global economy – more than US$5 trillion.

Simply agreeing to eliminate these subsidies and shifting those resources into tackling global warming would go a long way towards reaching net zero carbon.

And what about the cost of not getting to net zero carbon? Insurance group SwissRe estimates that rising global temperatures will cut global economic output by as much as US$23 trillion, cutting 11-14 per cent off global GDP by 2050.

There are fewer than 100 days to COP26. The IPCC report has provided all the dire information we need. Let us pray that Stratton and her dishwasher do not distract our procrastinating global leaders from what is undoubtedly the greatest political challenge our governments have ever faced.

David Dodwell researches and writes about global, regional and Hong Kong challenges from a Hong Kong point of view