What On Earth Is Going On?

After the publication of a landmark UN report on climate change, which comes as wildfires continue to burn on the west coast of the US and southern Europe, humanity has been given the starkest warning yet on the need for urgent action against the issue.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded, in their report that was brought together over eight years, that: ‘It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.’

Rising Sea Levels

One of the most worrying claims in the report was that it is ‘virtually certain’ that global sea levels will continue to rise throughout the 21st century and will ‘remain elevated for thousands of years’ with a rise of 15 metres between 1900 and 2300 unable to be ruled out with high emissions. This puts many island nations across the globe at risk of serious flooding or even complete disappearance in the case of very low-lying nations, for reference (though these sea levels will differ over the world) much of Ramsey lies below 20m above sea level. 

This is not something that comes as much of a surprise to many, with island nations in the pacific like Kiribati already preparing for the worst. The Kiribati government has even bought land in Fiji to grow crops and possibly serve as a place to evacuate their population. New Zealand also allows 75 people from the country to migrate there each year with calls from the World Bank for Australia and NZ to allow open migration for people from the pacific islands threatened by sea levels. The Isle of Man has also been battling the issue for years with flood defences built in areas like Laxey and Peel, a £60m fund was also set up in 2019 to address the problem of flooding across the island. A new Nasa tool, built to visualise sea level increases, created these maps of the island that show the areas that will be below the annual flood level by 2030.

A map of Ramsey, showing areas under the annual flood level by 2030. (Climate Central)
A map of the Isle of Man, showing areas under the annual flood level by 2030. (Climate Central)

Recent Weather Events

Huge wildfires, typhoons and floods have showcased some of the worst mother nature has to offer in recent months and years and scientists say they will only get worse unless we urgently take drastic action. For instance, the report by the IPCC found that: ‘extreme sea level events that occurred once per century in the recent past are projected to occur at least annually’ by 2100. Something the world has seen increased coverage of recently is forest fires, with Greece being one of the worst hit countries this year and California frequently reporting some of their worst ever fires. Greece’s capital Athens has recorded ground temperatures of 55℃ in August as thousands of residents and tourists were evacuated from cities all over the Mediterranean country with at least 150 fires reported and six areas on high alert. Nearby Turkey felt similar effects of climate change with nine people tragically dying and hundreds of homes burning down. California in the US has seen half of its 20 worst wildfires in the last four years with the second biggest happening right now.

It’s also not just fires that are getting worse and more frequent, with flooding an ever-increasing problem for places like Germany, which suffered some of the worst in its history back in July. One weather station in the city of Hagen recorded a daily rainfall of 154mm, over 1.5 times their previous record of 95mm. Similarly, parts of western Germany saw 148 litres of rain per sq metre in 48 hours, they would normally see 80 litres in the whole of July. Closer to home, recent flooding in London meant that parts of the city were submerged with footage online showing some of the English capital’s famous train stations underwater. The flooding also led to an east London hospital diverting ambulances away as they dealt with a cleanup operation. A similar situation happened in central China where over 300 people died, 14 of which drowned in flooded subway lines. The city of Zhengzhou, in the Henan province, saw 24.3 inches of rain in three days, just under the annual average of 25, whilst the region as a whole suffered direct economic losses of £12.6 billion.

A tweet showing London’s Pudding Mill DLR station underwater

The Isle of Man and Climate Change

Despite a recent law, the Climate Change Bill, passed by the Manx gov to address the issue, many have said it doesn’t go far enough to address the urgency of the problem. For example, the island currently has a target of 2050 for net-zero carbon emissions, despite a tabled amendment that proposed the sooner date of 2035 but was rejected by the majority of the House of Keys. A recently launched consultation from the gov is also asking the public for their views on climate issues, focussing on Energy, Housing, the Sea, Transport and Fossil Fuels with a ban being considered on future hydrocarbon exploration and extraction licenses on the island and in its territorial waters. The consultation also proposes that the island follows the UK on banning the registration of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

The bill has been criticised by many, including MHKs at the time of its introduction, Bill Shimmins said: ‘This feels like a cop-out from the existing administration,’ ‘It is more like the targets are etched in jelly, which might melt away if things get tough.’ Daphne Caine was also unimpressed, calling parts of the bill ‘wishy washy’, whilst Lawrie Hooper spoke about his belief that the public had been ignored on the 2050 date with only 41% of those consulted happy with the target. He also said: ‘My view on this has been made clear already: 2050 is too late. It loses us any potential economic advantage, it loses us any potential reputational advantage and not to mention an earlier date is simply the right thing to do to tackle the urgent emergency that is in front of us.’

What Next?

Despite the stark nature of the IPCC report, there are still many scientists who are hopeful we can avoid the very worst of the problem if we act now. One case of the world addressing a climate issue is the ‘holes’, more accurately described as thin patches, in the ozone layer, a section of the earth’s atmosphere that absorbs most of the UV radiation from the sun. The issue was first brought to large attention in the 1980s and saw the signing of an international treaty called the ‘Montreal Protocol’ that sought to ban or regulate the use of harmful chemicals, it was the first UN treaty to be ratified by every single member nation. Following the treaty, and the introduction of measures including the ending of CFC production, a chemical used in refrigeration and aerosol sprays, the Ozone layer is set to recover completely by around 2050 according to the UN, showing that global action can make a difference. 

The timing of the IPCC report comes before COP26, a global climate change conference in Glasgow in October/November. The meeting is being touted as ‘the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control’ and it was a previous COP (Conference of the Parties) meeting that saw the signing of the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement was a commitment by the countries in attendance to limit global warming to under 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees by bringing forward a national plan to reduce emissions that would be updated every five years, however, this plan has not appeared to work as thoroughly as intended. The summits main goals are listed as being:

1. Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach

2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats

3. Mobilise at least $100bn in climate finance per year

4. Work together to deliver

Whilst the results of this most recent report have made clear that big, international efforts need to be made by governments and businesses alike with individuals not the primary suspects in human activity causing climate change, there are still some things you can do to help. For instance, the upcoming General Election on the Isle of Man is the perfect time to make sure your representatives have clear and urgent plans to address the issue so you can easily reach out to candidates and ask them what their plans are. This will both inform your vote and make it clear to those standing that this is something their constituents care about. Similarly, you can ask those with power in your life, like your boss, what they are doing to address climate change and encourage them to take action like cutting down on waste and limiting unnecesary power usage.

You could also join a local green group, organisations like Beach Buddies or Friend of the Earth can help you to both take action and stay informed, you could even start your own if you’re feeling particularly inspired on an issue. Simple actions like taking the bus more often, reducing flying when going away (nothing wrong with the Eurostar) and buying your food from sustainable sources can help reduce your carbon footprint a lot. One big change that a lot of scientists are pointing to is cutting meat out of your life, or at least reducing your consumption. Research last year found that if everyone stopped eating meat, the world would remove between nine and 16 years of CO2 emissions due to the amount of space and energy needed to produce and distribute meat products. Starting simple with something like cutting out Beef and building up from there can make the transition easier for those of us who are struggling to give up the alternative five a day of Beef, Chicken, Pork, Lamb and Turkey.

Though reading the news on the IPCC report, and climate change in general, can be overwhelming, with things looking like they’ll never recover at times, we have to remember that change can happen. Though it won’t come from one person buying a metal straw, or skipping out on a beef burger in favour of trying the veggie burger one time, if we all push for change and make the effort to alter our own lives for the better, we can improve the current situation. Feeling anxious and personally guilty about our climate isn’t going to make anything better, but we need to push those in power to recognise this as the real and urgent issue it is so we can move on the short-term preventative action needed and start long-term transition to a better, cleaner society.

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