CARACAS, Wednesday April 01, 2009 | Update
Governments, the civil society, business and trade unions leaders need to set up systems, structures and take stances in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and implement projects and initiatives on adaptation to the new climate conditions
Photo: Freddy Henríquez
Probably we are making of the future a pitiful memory of the past. This is what appears from a report prepared by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in 2007, which reads as follows:
"In 2050, the global mean temperature on the planet will raise slightly over 2° C compared with the mean value of 1980-1999. Warming will be not steady around the world, because the regions in upper latitudes will be more affected; the relevant impacts will be the loss of vegetal mass in rainforests due to less humid soils; conversion of regions of semi-arid vegetation into arid lands; loss of biological diversity with up to 30 percent of endangered species; more frequent vegetation fires; poorer performance of cultivations and loss of heads of livestock which will affect food production; stronger hurricanes and torments with their aftereffects of dead and wounded people, diseases, lost property, migrations and post-traumatic stress, and the proliferation of transmission vectors of dengue, malaria and cholera, with these infectious diseases spreading geographically."
All of this will happen against a background of economic development still fragmented and focused on developed countries and emerging economies, which will have reached and perhaps surpassed the economic power of traditional developed countries, but at a huge environmental cost.
The world will be inhabited by nine billion people, out of whom, only one third will have access to adequate services of water, food and health care. About 20 mega-cities hosting more than 40 million people are expected to exist. There will be overcrowding and pollution in numerous urban spaces; high-income people will live in shielded enclaves, which will be wealthy patches inside wider spaces of urban poverty. The index of environmental refugees will grow. Such conditions will lead to local and international conflicts and clashes for access to water and food.
It is not the Apocalypse, because the consequences will not concomitantly affect all of the regions on the planet, and the impacts will not be immediate, but gradual. There will be the chance of adaptation, but only for those who can afford financial, technological and human resources. Oil will continue being used, but with losing predominance as a main energy source. After hitting a peak in the output, this resource will be growingly scarce, and it will be gradually replaced with coal, natural gas and, to a lesser extent, nuclear energy, hydroelectric energy, renewable resources and bio-fuels. More efficient vehicles, industrial machines and household appliances will be used.
In 2100, always against a backdrop of unequal economic development and consumption, the above-mentioned trends will become accentuated. The global mean temperature will raise slightly over 4° C, causing shortage of water for consumption and irrigation of crops in middle and low latitudes. This will be the result of increasing drought and glacier thaw.
Hundred million people will be exposed to increasing water stress and will be bound to migrate, thus worsening pre-existing conflicts. Extensive portions of the western region in the Amazonian jungle will become savannas. Around 40 percent of known species will be extinguished. The drastic decline of the ice coverage in the Artic and the Antarctic will raise the sea level, leading to the depletion of around 30 percent of coast wetlands worldwide. Million people will go through coast flooding and heat waves that will increase the morbidity and mortality rates. It is very difficult to envisage how traumatic will be the 2050-2100 period in terms of human fatalities. Insufficient energy, water and food, in addition to diseases will curtail the world population to a total of 7,000-8,000 people.
Such scenarios should not be seen in fatalist way, as they can be attenuated provided that an international agreement is reached for such purpose. Governments, the civil society, business and trade unions leaders need to set up systems, structures and take stances in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and implement projects and initiatives on adaptation to the new climate conditions.
Recycling; conservation and efficient use of water and energy; development of renewable energy resources; new standards on construction of buildings and facilities; a new land layout and planning which help improve access to services and afford increasing opportunities in rural areas; better management of agricultural lands, and the end of deforestation will be very helpful. The IPCC estimates that such joint efforts could lessen increasing world temperature by 1.1° C in 2050 and get it steady at 1.8° C in 2100.
Control of climate change also means to curb demographic growth and unreasonable consumption. There are two ways to curb growing population -either by authority of the law, as implemented in China, where only one child per couple is permitted, or by means of education, birth control and access to health care in poorer countries. The latter choice is time consuming and requires additional help from developed countries. Incidentally, as opposed to what can be expected, the birth rate in developed countries has been shrinking over the past few decades.
More supportive free market schemes are needed to curb insensible consumption, because the current ones have failed to match socio-environmental with economic matters, with externalization of social and environmental costs being a constant feature. If no decisions are made and no action is taken to contain gas emissions, the future generations will be compelled to live with fewer material means and services, and use less energy. They will surely take good care of remaining natural spaces and miss the once enormous possibilities and the beauty landscapes of lost ecosystems.
Juan Carlos Sánchez
Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Price 2007
Translated by Conchita Delgado
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