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Climate change: humanity as both cause and solution

"It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, the oceans and the land"

This statement does not contain the shadow of a doubt and it comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which released on August 9, its report entitled "Climate Change 2021: The Science Behind It". This direct and affirmative language differs somewhat from previous reports which spoke of a "very high probability". This is because the science continues to evolve and scientists can now establish causal relationships between human activities and the frequency and intensity of natural disasters. Floods in China and Germany, heat waves in the United States, fires in Greece, Turkey and Italy, and here at home, the prolonged drought in the South, all these events are now clearly linked to greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity.

What will tomorrow look like? First of all, temperatures will continue to rise.  According to the scenarios studied by the IPCC, the famous 1.5 degrees Celsius increase could well be reached or even exceeded between 2021 and 2040 - according to estimates more likely in the early 2030s. With drastic measures to reduce CO2 emissions, humanity could still limit the increase in average temperature to 1.6 °C by the middle of the 21st century and bring it down to 1.4 °C by 2100, which is the most optimistic scenario. Even with this, the climate system is already sufficiently affected and the effects will continue to be felt. Then sea levels will continue to rise for hundreds or thousands of years. Even if global warming were stopped at 1.5°C, the average sea level would rise by 2 to 3 meters or more. No region of the world will be spared the impacts of climate change. Extreme weather events such as cyclones, droughts and others will increase in strength and frequency.  The cost of their social, economic and human consequences will be far greater than the cost of all mitigation and adaptation measures combined.  Forests and oceans, which today absorb more than half of our CO2 emissions, are at risk and may no longer provide this service if their degradation continues. The combined effects of warming and degradation could turn some carbon sinks into sources of emissions!  

In this bleak picture, the only ray of hope will come from the choices that humanity will make - governments, businesses, individuals, etc. - According to this report, reversing the warming trend by the end of the century is still possible if, and only if, humanity radically changes its lifestyle, production and consumption patterns. Scientists estimate that at the beginning of 2020 our "carbon budget" - the total amount of CO2 we can emit while maintaining the possibility of limiting warming to 1.5°C - amounted to 400 gigatons of CO2; we emit about 36.4 gigatons per year, so we have about 10 years before this budget runs out. It is therefore today that we must make the right decisions, tomorrow it will be too late.

This report, approved by 195 States, will serve as a scientific basis for the discussions of the United Nations General Assembly in September and for the negotiations of the COP 26 in November in Glasgow. Let's hope that for once, science will prevail over politics and economics, because the future of the planet is at stake.

The prolonged drought in the South and its humanitarian, social and economic impacts are unfortunately proof that climate change is already at work. If climate change will not spare any region of the planet, the response and the capacity of countries to adapt will differ. The wealthy countries will have more means and resources to face crises, to displace, to compensate, to rebuild and above all to adapt, i.e. to anticipate future crises and to start a transition towards low-carbon economies. Less affluent countries, like us, will increasingly be faced with the dilemma of having to deal with emergencies and crises on the one hand and sustainable development on the other. What lies ahead requires anticipation, preparation, planning and action today, if not yesterday. Again, natural ecosystems will be of great help to us, protecting what remains of forests, swamps, mangroves, seagrass beds, and the like must remain the top priority, then restoring, planting and replanting; finding sustainable alternatives to charcoal and unsustainable agricultural practices; enforcing transparent, equitable and effective governance of natural resources. What is happening today in the South is only a foretaste - oh so bitter - of what could await us...
Letter to readers of Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana