The environmental threats of climatic change


The course of climate change has its origins in industry and transport pollution. Climate change is leading to rising sea levels, species extinction and increasingly dramatic changes in extreme weather. The frequency and severity of phenomena such as extremes of heat and drought, intense precipitation, floods, hurricanes and El Niño events has increased. With every fresh extreme weather event there is also an economic cost to pay. It has been estimated that in 1998 there were 44 000 deaths and $89.5 billion in economic loss around the world. In the last 20 years the number of disaster declarations has doubled every year.

1998 was the hottest on record. The record drought year. The deadliest hurricane of recent times (Mitch) and most hurricane events (33). El Niño was the strongest of the century.

CASE STUDY - The extremes of Florida’s weather in 1998 - ‘At various times through 1998 Florida’s residents prayed for rain and prayed for it to stop.’ Florida’s southern farmers estimate floods cost them $150 million in crop damage; whilst droughts cost Florida $150 million in losses over a range of crops. Floods also affected residential areas. Violent tornadoes destroyed and damaged homes in and around Miami. During the drought, ‘wildfires’ destroyed half a million acres of land and 400 homes. And then came the hurricanes, Georges in late September and then the biggest of the lot, Mitch. Florida’s six weather-related disasters; hurricanes, tornadoes, heavy rain, drought, fire and flood were the most of any state in the USA. ‘To have had any one of the events would not have been unusual on its own. But having to face six in one year is very different.’

Source: Naples Daily News, 27.12.98


The ‘cure-all’?

The United States and 174 other countries have ratified the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change, the global warming treaty was signed at the Earth Summit in 1992. This treaty commits parties to implement programmes to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions with the objective of stabilising these emissions at a level that prevents dangerous interference with the Earth’s climate.

Recognising that little progress toward this objective had been made, parties to the global warming treaty negotiated the Kyoto Protocol in December of 1997. This protocol will bind developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas pollution emissions to an average of 5.2% below what they were in 1990.

The first steps have not come easily. International negotiations have been slowed by a powerful coalition of electric producers, car manufacturer and oil and coal companies who want to continue to emit global pollution at current, unrestricted levels. In fact President Bush, March 2001, announced the USA’s intention not to ratify the protocol.

The cost in money, lives and to property that global warming will inflict on us if we do not take steps to reduce polluting emissions is immeasurable.

Protecting countries and communities from global warming induced weather destruction should be high on the agenda of all MEDCs to achieve these reductions.

  • Increased fuel economy standards for cars are a must.
  • There shall be set standards for power plant CO2 emissions.
  • And there should be increased support for companies and individuals who are energy efficient and use renewable energy.
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