Mon | Jun 24, 2019

Earth Today | Higher temperatures lower climate resilience of small islands

Published:Thursday | October 18, 2018 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor/ Contributing editor
Professor Michael Taylor *** Local Caption *** Contributed Photo Prof Michael Taylor

THE WARMER the planet, the more unlikely it is for in particular small island states, such as those of the Caribbean, to effectively adapt to a changing climate.

"Adaptation is expected to be more challenging for ecosystems, food and health systems at 2 degrees C of global warming than for 1.5 degrees Celsius (medium confidence). Some vulnerable regions, including small islands and Least Developed Countries, are projected to experience high multiple interrelated climate risks even at global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (high confidence)," reveals a section of the recently approved Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees C by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

"Limits to adaptive capacity exist at 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, become more pronounced at higher levels of warming and vary by sector, with site-specific implications for vulnerable regions, ecosystems, and human health (medium confidence)," it added.

The report's revelation strengths the long-held argument of small island developing states for climate response efforts to target 1.5 as against two degrees Celsius as the principal target for a cap in global temperatures.

As things stand, the historic Paris Agreement provides for a level ambition of "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the tempera-ture increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels".

Nevertheless, some developed countries have remained more inclined to aim for two degrees, and certainly in the absence of scientific data showing the perils of 1.5, which this new IPCC report now establishes.


1.5 no easy feat


It is, however, no secret that getting to 1.5 is a steep climb, as the report also notes. Still, the conclusion is that it may be well worth it to try, given what is at stake. For example, by 2100, "global mean sea level rise is projected to be around 0.1 metre lower with global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to two degrees Celsius (medium confidence)".

Added the report: "Sea level will continue to rise well beyond 2100 (high confidence), and the magnitude and rate of this rise depends on future emission pathways. A slower rate of sea level rise enables greater opportunities for adaptation in the human and ecological system of small islands, low-lying coastal areas and deltas (medium confidence)".

The 1.5 option also paints a better picture for impacts, including species loss.

"On land, impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, including species loss and extinction, are projected to be lower at 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to two degrees Celsius. Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to two degrees Celsius is projected to lower the impacts on terrestrial, freshwater and coastal ecosystems and to retain more of their services to humans (high confidence)," the report noted.




The same is true for climate-related risk to health, livelihoods, food and water security, among other things.

The reality is such that physicist Professor Michael Taylor, one of the drafting authors for the summary report, has championed the wide-scale sharing of the findings and the report's strategic use to advance the resilience of in particular small island developing states.

"The report establishes that 1.5 has its own set of consequences; it is a risky state. But then, it is half a degree difference from two. And though 1.5 is risky, it is less risky than two," Taylor, also dean of the faculty of science and technology at the University of the West Indies, told The Gleaner recently.

"I hope that what is going to be happening is that the (Caribbean) region is going to unpack the full significance of the larger report and use it as the basis of its negotiations - the basis under which the planning for our countries, for adaptation, for mitigation (is done). I am hoping that is coming in the ensuing days," he added.