Tuesday, June 30, 2015

We must enlist political, economic and moral assets to tackle climate change

Climate change is used to describe larger than normal variability in weather and climate parameters, especially rainfall and temperature. The cause of climate change on a global scale has touched off divisive debate. However, the long arc of evidence bends toward human causal factors. It is therefore in our power to act. And act now we must.

Regardless of it cause, climate change is expected to reduce grain yields and cuase food prices to rise steeply, especially in Africa. It is projected that total calories available in 2050 will be significantly lower than in the 2000. It is expceted that lower grain yields and food price spikes could lead to a 20 percent rise in malnutrition among children in Africa. Variable rainfall patterns are likely to constrain fresh water supply, compromising hygiene and increasing the risk of diarrheal diseases, which kills over 2.2 million mostly children under 5 years of age in Asia and Africa.

 The major causes of death in Africa, malaria, Rift valley Fever, malnutrition, and diarrhea are climate sensitive are exoected to worsen under climate change. According to WHO, the direct cost to health, excluding costs in agriculture, water and sanitation, is projected to reach $2-4 billion annually by 2030. The World Bank estimates that $75 billion will be needed annually to deal with the impacts of climate change such as tropical diseases, decline in agricultural productivity and damage to inrastructure owing to sea-level rise.

A new study, Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health, published in the journal Lancet shows that the potentially catastrophic risk to human health posed by climate change has been underestimated. The point is that climate change is creating the perfect storm, with pandemics invigorated by warmer climate, water scarcity, and changes in vector ecology.

The impact of climate change on human health is not something that looms in the distant future. This month in Pakistan, temperatures have breached a staggering 48 degrees Celsius, leading to severe heat wave and a death toll of over 1200. Moreover, the impacts of climate change are not limited to Africa and Asia. In 2003, over 70,000 people died in Europe as result of severe summer heat.

However, the poor, who mostly live in the global South, bear a disproportionate burden of the impacts of climate change. It is a widely held belief that countries in the developing world, Asia, Africa and South America have contributed less, historically, to greenhouse gasses. The South argues that they have a right to pollute their way to economic prosperity. In Africa, we have argued that advanced economies must pay for the cost of adaption that is necessary to cope with impacts of climate change.

Climate change is a veritable economic, social, ecological and health emergency. And it has got the Pope talking. In his encyclical, the Pope Francis has called for a radical transformation of economics, lifestyle and political to confront climate change. In the Pope’s mind, climate change is anthropogenic, human-caused. Hence, the Pope has associated the Catholic congregation closely with mainstream scientific thinking. In his call to action, the Pope urges ordinary citizens to change their life choices and to pressure politicians to take bold action to re-think economic and energy policies.

The overarching theme of the papal encyclical is ecological harmony, nature and human beings.  At the heart of the Pope’s call to action, especially among the Catholic faithful, is the imperative that in order to love God you have to love fellow human beings, and all of God’s creation. This is perfectly consistent because St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and the environment.

The Pope challenges the notion that our species has God-given dominion over the earth. According to Pope Francis, the scripture directs human beings to cultivate, protect and preserve Earth’s resources. Pope Francis calls for decisive national action, international cooperation and a spiritual and cultural awakening to restore the Earth, our only home.


The science and policy community will benefit from the moral awakening, which Pope Francis has infused into what in my view is the urgent challenge of our time. What can we expect from the 21st session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Paris in December 2015? Can governments commit to a new global agreement to halt global warming?

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