For a time during the deep-end of the worldwide lockdown phase months ago, there was an oft-quoted silver lining that was presented to anyone who was contemplating the things that may no longer ever be the same after the pandemic. Economies may be dented, lives impacted for good but at least the environment was having a comeback like no other time before. There were many reports of animals descending on to otherwise busy streets, species of birds thought to be extinct being spotted, dirty water bodies clearing up and a general feeling that air quality was seeing a drastic uptick. The power of nature to cover lost ground may even have been a sort of inspiration for those who had suffered setbacks as a result of the pandemic. Of course, the scientific community was prudent in warning that any changes being seen during such a phase were temporary and more of a sample of what may be possible if we cut back on the polluting excess of our daily existence. Still, people hoped that somehow the lockdown would have the unplanned benefit of turning the climate change clock back, even if it was just a bit.
As is often the case, science always has a way of smashing such flimsy hopes. A report published this week by the World Meteorological Organisation, a UN agency, provided a grim reality check in this regard. The report states that the concentration of greenhouse gases has reached a record high in regards to the atmosphere. While daily emissions did dip to just 17 per cent relative to levels recorded last year, this was no more than a blip. Also, the report noted that the level of daily emissions so achieved in this period in April was still comparable to the level of emissions in 2006, a fact that highlights just how much global emissions have grown in the last decade or so. As of July, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere hit 414.38 parts per million. To give context, researchers agree that the safe threshold for the same is around 350 parts per million, a safety limit that humanity breached back in 1988.
In an equally grim observation, the report noted the number of people expected to live in water-scarce areas by 2050 has risen to 3.2 billion, up from a previous estimation of 1.9 billion. It is also noted that rising temperatures would expose hundreds of millions more people to the risk of extreme weather phenomenon like flooding.
As if this was somehow not enough in terms of apocalyptic predictions, another report was released this week by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) regarding the emerging ecological threats that lie just over the horizon for humanity. The report states that over one billion people face the threat of displacement by 2050 as a result of population growth, lack of access to food & water and, most prominently, climate change. For a sense of comparison, the report stated that in 2019, some 30 million people were displaced by climate change and conflict worldwide.
It is easy to assume that such reports serve little in the way of an actual purpose beyond prophesying doom in a time when bad news is mostly the only kind of news available. Indeed, page after page of facts exists that have not been mentioned here that would instil an ever-deepening sense of despair and helplessness. But it is worth noting that these reports are not meant as simple omens of bad times or even warnings. These reports exist to provide context and information to policymakers in the 'new' battlefield of climate change. They present certain facts as grim beyond redemption but always note that course correction is possible, though increasingly difficult. Sadly, even now climate change has its deniers who refuse to take the first step of acknowledging the problem that is clear for the world to see. Many administrations across the world are guilty of prioritising short term economic gains in the face of distant retribution. But this is no longer a distant scenario at all. There is a price to pay and humanity will not pay it hundreds of years from now, humanity will face this crisis within this very generation.