Only 9 Years Left to Prevent Irreversible Damage from Climate Change, Speakers Warn during General Assembly High-Level Meeting
Ambition, Urgency Needed to Address Global Emergency, Secretary-General Says
Just over a decade is all that remains to stop irreversible damage from climate change, world leaders heard today as the General Assembly opened a high‑level meeting on the relationship between the phenomenon and sustainable development.
“We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet,” General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador) warned the gathering in her opening remarks, stressing that 9 years are all that remain to avert catastrophe. Highlighting the meeting’s theme, Ms. Espinosa called for an intergenerational approach to climate change. “Climate justice is intergenerational justice,” she said, calling on States to act collectively and responsibly.
Pointing to intensified calls by youth leaders for action on climate change, she said that 2019 must be a year of climate action at all levels. Drawing inspiration from the thousands of students worldwide demanding tangible action, she called on world leaders to make 2020 the last year carbon emissions increase due to human activities. To achieve these goals, people worldwide must change their patterns of consumption, she said, noting that, every year, 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted as some 2 billion people suffer of hunger and malnutrition.
Further echoing the global youth’s call to action was United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who said young people are demanding that today’s leaders act on behalf of future generations. “We must address this global emergency with ambition and urgency,” he stressed, remarking that climate change threatens decades of development progress and plans for inclusive sustainable development.
Noting that “hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions” of people have been affected by cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, he said such events are becoming more frequent and will become worse without urgent, immediate action. He announced the convening of a climate action summit, calling on leaders to meet in New York on 23 September with concrete, realistic plans to enhance nationally determined contributions by 2020.
Pointing to agents of change, he stressed the importance of the role of women as key decisions makers, adding that the summit will assemble Governments, the private sector, local authorities and other organizations.
Addressing the real‑life impact of climate change was Shedona Richardson, youth representative of Grenada. To her, climate change and global warming were ambiguous terms until her life, and that of her fellow Grenadians, was forever altered by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. “That was the day mother nature fought back after being treated so unkindly for so long,” she said, adding that the international community is failing to act as small island developing States face the existential threat of climate change. Addressing the heads of State and Government present at the meeting, she said: “Our future is in your hands, do not let the hope of the world be in vain.”
Immediately following opening remarks, the Assembly held a fireside chat that touched on the achievements of the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — held in Bonn, Germany, and Katowice, Poland, respectively, as well as the expectations for the Twenty-fifth conference to be held in Chile from 2 to 13 December.
During that discussion, Fiji’s Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, who served as President of the Twenty-third Conference of the Parties, said that, while the gathering featured disagreements and finger pointing, the spirit of cooperation and understanding prevailed. Michał Kurtyka, Secretary of State at the Ministry for Energy and Environment of Poland and President of the Twenty‑fourth Conference, said that a people-centred approach to climate change mitigation emerged in Katowice. For her part, Carolina Schmidt, Minister for Environment of Chile and President of the upcoming Twenty-fifth Conference, said discourse must now shift towards change and action with the understanding that climate change and poverty are linked.
The meeting also featured two panel discussions: one on synergies between climate and sustainable development agendas and another on means of implementation.
During the first discussion panellists, Member States and civil society representatives asserted that the time for discourse has passed. “Now is the time for action,” said Krishnee Appadoo, youth representative of Mauritius, pointing to the direct impact climate change is having on small island developing States, women and young people. Such action must be based on a new narrative that promotes systemic change, said Manish Bapna, Executive Vice-President of the World Resources Institute.
Throughout the second discussion, panellists stressed the need to promote technology transfers, provide targeted development assistance and create favourable financing packages that allow vulnerable States to adapt to, and mitigate, climate change. Panellist Javier Manzanares, Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund, said helping developing countries access climate financing is the Fund’s priority and over the past three years its portfolio has included 102 projects worth $5 billion.
What is global climate catastrophe?
There is no formal definition in climate change science of dangerous, disastrous, or catastrophic global climate change. The impression given from media reports is that it means the loss of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, raising the global sea level. It is much more than those dramatic but slow future events.
The loss of the Arctic summer sea ice has not been recognized as catastrophic danger. Arctic climate change has been recognized by James Hansen in a 2007 paper Dangerous human-made interference with climate: a GISS model study.
Though many say “dangerous interference with the climate system,” the objective of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, is not defined, a full reading of the Convention shows it is clearly and specifically defined in terms of the effects of climate change on food and health security in the most climate-change-vulnerable regions and populations.
A common sense definition would be based on human population health. If water security is added in, this is indeed a common sense definition of “dangerous interference with the climate system.”
Such a definition does exist in Climate Change and Public Health, Brian S. Schwartz, MD, MS, September 2008 from the proceedings of the 135th Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA):
Climate Change, Peak Petroleum, and Public Health
Global climate change health impact
The projected implications of climate change for human health are many, diverse, and wide-ranging in magnitude. Several speakers defined the commonly used term “catastrophic climate change” which was used by climatologist James Hansen and others.
Catastrophic climate change is defined as climate change that would result in
extinction of up to 50% of terrestrial and marine species,
sea-level rise leading to the displacement of tens to hundreds of millions of people, and
changes in regional climate that would cause profound disruption to regional food production and the hydrologic cycle (eg, worse droughts, more severe rain events with flooding and consequent damage).
There was recognition and agreement with the many climatologists who have maintained that there are less than 9 years remaining to change “business as usual” with respect to reducing carbon emissions, or else catastrophic climate change will be unavoidable.
Dangerous climate change therefore means “catastrophically dangerous,” and the bottom line of catastrophic climate change is profound disruption to regional food production and water availability to regional populations. Profound disruption would inevitably follow from any sustained losses at any time, because of the basic climate change science: climate change commitment (due to lags in the climate system), the combined “multiplier” effect, and cumulative impact.
What Will Happen When Earth’s North And South Pole Flip
Did you know that Earth has two North Poles? There’s the geographic North Pole, which never changes. And there’s the magnetic North Pole, which is always on the move. And right now it’s moving faster than usual.
Over the past 150 years, the magnetic North Pole has casually wandered 685 miles across northern Canada. But right now it’s racing 25 miles a year to the northwest.
This could be a sign that we’re about to experience something humans have never seen before: a magnetic polar flip. And when this happens, it could affect much more than just your compass.
Right now on the surface of the planet, it looks like it’s just a bar magnet. Our compasses are just pointing to one pole at a time because there’s a dominant two-pole system.
But sometimes, Earth doesn’t always just have a single magnetic North and South Pole. Evidence suggests that, for hundreds to thousands of years at a time, our planet has had four, six, and even eight poles at a time. This is what has happened when the magnetic poles flipped in the past. And when it happens again, it won’t be good news for humans.
Now you might think, eight poles must be better than two. But the reality is that: Multiple magnetic fields would fight each other. This could weaken Earth’s protective magnetic field by up to 90% during a polar flip.
Earth’s magnetic field is what shields us from harmful space radiation which can damage cells, cause cancer, and fry electronic circuits and electrical grids. With a weaker field in place, some scientists think this could expose planes to higher levels of radiation, making flights less safe.
This could also disrupt the internal compass in many animals who use the magnetic field for navigation. Even more extreme, it could make certain places on the planet too dangerous to live. But what exactly will take place on the surface is less clear than what will undoubtedly happen in space.
Satellites and crewed space missions will need extra shielding that we’ll have to provide ourselves. Without it, intense cosmic and solar radiation will fry circuit boards and increase the risk of cancer in astronauts.
Our modern way of life could cease to exist. We know this because we’re already seeing a glimpse of this in an area called the South Atlantic Anomaly. Turns out, the direction of a portion of the magnetic field deep beneath this area has already flipped! And scientists say that’s one reason why the field has been steadily weakening since 1840.
As a result, the Hubble Space Telescope and other satellites often shut down their sensitive electronics as they pass over the area. And astronauts on the International Space Station reported seeing a higher number of bright flashes of light in their vision, thought to be caused by high-energy cosmic rays that the weaker field can’t hold back.
Since experts started measuring the Anomaly a few decades ago, it has grown in size and now covers a fifth (20.3%) of Earth’s surface, with no signs of shrinking anytime soon. This is so extreme that it could be a sign we’re on the brink of a polar flip, or we may already be in the midst of one!
But scientists remain skeptical, mainly because …
They don’t know. The last time the poles reversed was 780,000 years ago so it’s not like we have a record for this.
Turns out 780,000 years is over double the time Earth usually takes between flips.
In the past 65 million years since the last mass extinction there have been reversals roughly every 300,000 years.
So what gives? Well, scientists haven’t figured it out yet. It’s unnerving to think that our modern way of life — banking, the stock exchange, missile tracking, GPS— relies on the outcome of something we can neither predict, nor control. One study went so far as to estimate that a single, giant solar storm today could cost the US up to $41.5 billion a day in damages.
And that’s with Earth’s magnetic field at its current strength. It’s frightening to imagine the devastation a storm would bring to an Earth with a magnetic field only 10% as strong.
We may not be able to stop a polar flip, but we can at least start to take measures to minimize the damage. The first step? Figure out what’s going on with this whacky field.
On the hunt are the European Space Agency’s SWARM satellites, which are collecting the most precise data on the strength of Earth’s magnetic field. Right now, they could be our greatest hope for solving this riddle.
Abrupt warming has definitely happened in the past and of the most concern is the abrupt warming that ended the abrupt Younger Dryas 11,500 years ago- research shows this was 10C in a few decades and due to NH methane emissions .
A expert publication on tipping points is by Tim Lenton. In this 2008 paper the Arctic planetary tipping points of terrestrial permafrost and of methane hydrate were included but not rated in the list of priorities, because of lack of research data.
A safe operating space for humanity, Nature, August 2011 by J. Rockström, Will Steffen, K. Noone, Åsa Persson, F. Chapin, E. Lambin, T. Lenton, M. Scheffer, C. Folke, Hans Schellnhuber et al, found that atmospheric CO2 had passed the safety limit:
Climate Change We have reached a point at which the loss of summer polar ice is almost certainly irreversible. From the perspective of the Earth as a complex system, this is one example of the sharp threshold above which large feedback mechanisms could drive the Earth system into a much warmer, greenhouse gas-rich state with sea levels metres higher than present. Recent evidence suggests that the Earth System, now passing 387 ppmv CO2, has already transgressed this Planetary Boundary.
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