Poland is sinking. Paris is already under water. London will be next.
This is not science fiction, but the reality on Christmas Island in the South Pacific. The village named “Poland” (after a Polish engineer who enhanced palm trees cultivation) is being gradually submerged as a consequence of climate change. Other settlements on the island are equally affected: “Paris” disappeared a few years ago and “London” is now threatened.
Climate change is happening. If all actions already committed to are effectively implemented, it is likely to warm up by another 2oC or so. If no action is taken, a warming of as much as 4oC could occur as early as 2060.These numbers may not sound that large, but they will pose enormous challenges.
While shorter winters may not be such a bad thing in Poland, these changes would have an impact on food production, water availability, and human health. Large-scale disruptions would follow: a redefinition of economic and trade systems, unprecedented migrations away from flooded areas, and eventually threats to peace. Is this science-fiction? Nearly 360 million city-dwellers would be threatened if sea levels were to rise by 1.5 meter, most of them in countries which are too poor to cope with such crisis. Drought-affected areas would increase from 15 percent of global cropland today to around 44 percent. It is hard to imagine that such developments will not have economic and political consequences. In fact the magnitude of the changes associated with a 4oC warming are such that they can simply not be modeled. This has been classified as a “national security threat” by the US Pentagon.
Such a world must be avoided.
The good news is that it can be avoided if we take adequate action. And Poland has a particular role to play in this endeavor, as the organizer of the next international forum on climate change, which is scheduled to take place in Warsaw in 2013– and as a country which has been advocating for a pragmatic pathway, between enthusiasts and skeptics.
We need to acknowledge that avoiding uncontrolled climate changes is a global responsibility. There has been too much horse-trading in the negotiations process, and not enough efforts to rise to the challenge, and make a collective commitment. No country will gain from the upcoming disruptions. All have to work together to reduce the risks. But we also need to be pragmatic, to acknowledge that some of the required changes will benefit some countries more than others, and to put in place instruments and incentives that can effectively level the playing field.
We need to take action, not to seek excuses in others’ inaction. We need to pay attention to the beam that is in our own eye before looking for the speck in our brother’s eye. Mitigation has a cost, but it can also provide economic opportunities. In fact, a recent report of the World Bank concluded that for Poland the short-term costs would be outweighed by the medium-term benefits. To take just one example, huge gains could be made just by improving energy efficiency.
We need to recognize that each of us has a role to play. As citizens, we can steer the political debate in our country and make leaders take the right decisions. As consumers, we can adapt our behaviors to reduce the pressure on the environment.
This is a broad agenda, one that skeptics will call naïve. But the alternative is such that naivety may well be our best option.