The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency has certainly had an impact on those of us concerned about the environment and Climate Change. Trump has stated that he does not believe Climate Change is actually taking place and has said, “unless somebody can prove something to me, I believe there’s weather.”
The chorus of those expressing concerns include world leaders who were attending the United Nations Conference on Climate Change this year. Throughout the second and final week of COP22, the tenor at the annual conference continued to reverberate with reaction to the U.S. presidential election.
“It is essential that the United States, the greatest economic power in the world, the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, respects the commitments it has made,” French President François Hollande said in his address to gathering in Marrakech, Morocco. “It is [in] their interest.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a press briefing that he had spoken to Trump since his election, including on climate change, and that his hope is Trump “will really hear and understand the seriousness and urgency of addressing climate change,” and reevaluate campaign remarks now that he is president.
There have been many reports over the last few years of the deadly and damaging effects of climate change that are already being felt around the world. Certainly in Australia in the last year there have been worrying developments that have been linked to Climate Change:
Queensland scientists confirmed that this year’s mass coral bleaching has resulted in the largest die-off of corals ever recorded. What is coral bleaching? Many types of coral have a special symbiotic relationship with a tiny marine algae (zooxanthellae) that live inside corals’ tissue and are very efficient food producers that provide up to 90 per cent of the energy corals require to grow and reproduce.
Coral bleaching occurs when the relationship between the coral host and zooxanthellae, which give coral much of their colour, breaks down. Without the zooxanthellae, the tissue of the coral animal appears transparent and the coral’s bright white skeleton is revealed.
Corals begin to starve once they bleach. While some corals are able to feed themselves, most corals struggle to survive without their zooxanthellae.
As the climate changes, coral bleaching is predicted to become more frequent and severe. Sea temperature increases and coral stress from other impacts may increase corals’ vulnerability to bleaching.
The “thunderstorm asthma” event in Melbourne, which killed eight people, has also been attributed to climate change. Associate Professor Hew said “thunderstorm asthma” events, which are caused by strong winds stirring up pollen and other irritants in the air, tend to happen every five to 10 years. The recent event has been attributed to Climate Change in terms of the extreme weather that results from raised global temperatures.
A steadily warming climate, combined with habitat loss and the increased use of pesticides, is causing bee populations to collapse at an alarming rate.
Bees are crucial to the environment. There are over 20,000 known species of bees, many of which are not just crucial pollinators for wild plants but for the agriculture industry as well.
According to a 2015 study by Nature, rising temperatures near the southern parts of Europe and North America is causing the natural range of some bumblebee species to move north by as much as 300 km.
The decline in Bee population, if it continues, could have a devastating impact on our own and world food supplies, which added to increased damage to crops by drought and storm damage due to increased extreme weather events, all paint a bleak picture for the future in terms of food security.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts the transmission of infectious diseases is “a likely major consequence of climate change”. Dr Peng Bi, and epidemiology and population health expert from the University of Adelaide, told ‘The New Daily’ a warmer and more humid climate provided the ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes, which can carry diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.
We are also seeing the re-emergence of diseases such as anthrax in Siberia, where thawing permafrost exposed anthrax-infected reindeer carcasses spread to the nomadic peoples who inhabit that region.
Food security failures could lead to war
Climate warming is making extreme drought conditions more common and as a result is having severe effects on crop yields, threatening global food security.
Professor Tim Flannery, the Climate Council’s chief councillor, says the quality and seasonality of crops are “increasingly being affected by climate change with Australia’s future food security under threat”.
“Australia’s food supply chain is highly exposed to disruption from increasing extreme weather events driven by climate change, with farmers already struggling to cope with more frequent and intense droughts and changing weather patterns.”
A United Nations report forecast that by 2050, the world may not be able to produce enough food for its growing population, which could lead to an increase in civil unrest, war and terrorism.
Ocean acidification is proving to be a major challenge for the fishing industry, with the potential to decimate shellfish populations.
Shellfish are hurt by climate change because increased carbon dioxide (CO2) levels from a warming climate causes oceans to become more acidic – as more atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by the world’s oceans, the pH level of seawater drops to make it more acidic. This is bad for shellfish because it makes it harder for the organisms to grow and maintain their shells.
The Climate Council published a 2015 report that explained how climate change was causing natural disaster events such as bushfires and heatwaves to become “hotter, longer and more frequent”.
Mr Flannery, of the Climate Council, explained that “record hot days have doubled in Australia in the last 50 years and 2016 is likely to be the hottest year on record globally for the third year in a row”.
“These longer, hotter and more intense heatwaves and more frequent and severe heatwaves are in turn driving up the likelihood of very high bushfire risk, particularly in southeast and southwest Australia,” Mr Flannery said.
So far, 112 countries representing nearly 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have ratified the universal climate deal, with the United Kingdom the latest to do so.
In his own message to COP22 delegates, Pope Francis called them to “the grave ethical and moral responsibility to act without delay, in a manner as free as possible from political and economic pressures” in their efforts to combat climate change.
“The Paris Agreement has traced a clear path on which the entire international community is called to engage. … It affects all humanity, especially the poorest and the future generations, who represent the most vulnerable component of the troubling impact of climate change,” Francis said.