It’s November and ordinarily it is about two months past the start of the second half of the tropical dry season – the season we usually call the harmattan – at least in this part of the world.
Among other things, I personally am of the opinion that more than just the marked absences that we have come to terms with, there also is a psychological factor behind our now vanishing dry season. In years past, if one remembers, the coming of the dry season was one which held its own flavour. It was the coming of the periods of religious festivities (Eid-il-Malud, Christmas); it was the period that we remember as having otherwise pleasant silences rudely interrupted by errant explosions of firecrackers – knockouts, banger. The first sensation of the imminent dry season towards the end of September and/or the start of October in its own way, prepared the mind for the eventual arrival of the yuletides. In a similar way as Friday is anticipated during the work week, the harmattan season was our Friday for the year. There was always just something in the atmosphere by the time September arrived – a great deal of the time it was just dust – and as it dragged on and steadily picked up pace, by December it was at a fever pitch, like a natural party that built its hype all over an entire nation through nothing else but constantly diminishing atmospheric humidity. First came the Eid and later came Christmas, the air got drier and the magic was literally in the air; harmattan brings December; December brings Christmas; Christmas brings a reason to cool off and unwind from the year-long hard-work. A reason to take some time to refuel for another year after when the celebratory period rounded off with the arrival of the new year. Usually, many were rejuvenated after the time spent with loved ones; friends and family from whom the necessities of everyday living rendered unavoidably absent. With recent changes, this natural primer is being lost and congruently being replaced with effort. Every day of the year feels more or less like every other day, that inclination that motivates us to relax becomes something we have to actively remind ourselves about. We see it when people make solemn comments about how Christmas has lost its “feel”. These days, even thinking about taking time off from work becomes work in itself and all this translates to in the long run is just a spent workforce and bleeding productivity.
With present changes, in some weird way, we reminisce about it as a regular old time past, like a fifth year birthday or graduation from secondary school. If I didn’t know better, it wouldn’t entirely be out of place to assume or to infer that at some level, it was like we knew it was bound to happen so when it eventually did, there was nothing so surprising about it, or more accurately, like very many natural systems, it just kept changing ever so slightly until one paradigm was entirely done away with in favour of another. The earth got progressively warmer and the climate changed to correspond with its new reality. And instead of the regular six-month dry season, we have it for a few weeks these days and when it rains on the 23rd of December, we just laugh, turn to someone else and ask if they remembered a time from back in the 90’s when December used to be a lot drier while we hope with every coming year that things would return to what we remember them to be.
Today, the impacts of anthropogenic industrialisation continue to headline many political and economic debates and discussions around the world as they have done for a while. The effects that environmental conditions exert on issues like immigration, employment, food security and war have been extensively documented so much that environmental considerations take up a significant portion of our sustainable development goals and aspirations. In establishing the commitment and the political will to combat climate change, the Paris Agreement of December 2015 came to being and as of today the only countries in the world that are not signatory to it are the United States and Syria as we collectively work towards achieving the goal of keeping the global temperature changes under two degrees by 2100 with a failure to do so signalling the coming of dangerous climate change; the runaway point from which there is no known prospects of return.
Since 2015 when the COP22 Agreement was made, many have asked how pragmatic and achievable the “under two degrees” goal was, going by metrics and projections for the future of the world with regards to energy consumption, population and urban expansion as well as industrial development and economic expansion and the answers have neither been steadfast nor convincing. It was in August 2017 when research ascertained that the observed melting of Antarctic ice might have very well be introducing the planet to yet another tipping point of dangerous climate change in a similar event as seen some 30,000 years ago. While the set date for the commencement of the enforcement of the COP guidelines still remain in the year 2020, a pre-assessments of signatory countries’ performance in keeping up with the climate objectives as instituted by the COP Agreement showed that while many countries may very well be set to reduce their GHG emissions, the factors to which these reductions are made, still leaves a lot to be desired. Coupling this with the withdrawal of the US – the second largest source of global CO2 emissions (about a fifth of all global emissions), it does give a depressing vision for when the year 2100 finally arrives and calls us to settle our accounts. Of the 197 countries signed on, 168 have ratified it and Nigeria isn’t one of them.
In this year alone, flooding in Nigeria has been recorded to have attained levels previously unseen; the global warming related exacerbation of hurricanes as they hit the US while droughts in other regions of the same country have persisted since 2012. We saw European men wear skirts and dresses to school and work in response to finding appropriate dressing that adapted them to the summer heat and in other regions, rainfall patterns remained irregular especially disrupting subsistence agriculture and aiding the northward spread of diseases and disease vectors from warmer to cooler climes. The situation gets more intense with every passing day. The question is: even as we continue to make investments in renewable energy, development of climate responsive technologies and as we become more dedicated in our adoption of the principles of sustainability, just how much hope is there and how much time do we really have? The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have more than doubled since the start of the industrial revolution but factually, is just “cutting emissions” and investing in renewables enough to positively offset the tremendous volumes of CO2 which have already been and quite fairly, are still being pumped into the atmosphere, in such a way that they pose no long-term damage or should we desperately be seeking ways to extract atmospheric CO2 through carbon capture technology with an urgency that ranks as a matter of literal life and mass death? Up until mid-2017, Nicaragua was one of the few countries which remained non-signatory to the Paris Agreement and realistically albeit with an artfully ironic twist, it seemed to be the only country that treated the issue of climate action with the kind of urgency that the situation commanded. Nicaragua chose to remain non-signed to the agreement not because it couldn’t meet the requirements but because there was no penalty slated for countries who failed in their effort to meet their climate objectives. While it could be supposed that the diplomatic negotiations that brought the agreement to being would have been structured to promote leniency with an aim of getting as many countries on board as possible, if not working, at the very least, conscious to the collective effort. It concurrently could be argued that this leniency runs counterproductive to the achievement of climate goals. This is further compounded by the fact, like the US has done, much to the detriment of the morale of other signatory states, countries, any point they please could simply pack up and sign out of the agreement with the retributions standing at next to nothing. The politics behind the global campaign against global warming is indeed tricky with some evidence of this deviousness pointing to the Paris Agreement itself. In 2015 when the agreement was made, a letter was sent to the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC), signed by first rate academics made up of eleven professors and renowned researchers. The letter served the singular purpose of stating that the Paris Agreement in itself as well as the terms that were contained within it, was not sufficient as a weapon against climate change and might serve a negative purpose of derailing the efforts by masking the urgency it requires with some ill-informed notion of lenient optimism – a notion that ran contrary to the image of the Agreement as it was touted by the UN and the global media. As a matter of fact, a study conducted in 2015 and headed by economics professor Christopher Green of the McGill University ascertained that if the US and the EU were to immediately cut down emissions by up to 80% by 2050, with China throwing in a huge chunk into the effort, the contributions it might make, as it would affect positively keeping the global temperature changes under two degrees might be minimal if not negligible. The study which made for some strong piece of advice, was especially pertinent as it not only questioned the pragmatism of the terms at the foundation of the Paris Agreement but, it also pointed out that a progressive reduction culminating at an eventual 50% also reflected a corresponding 50% of emissions that would not have been controlled. This study was available to the UNFCCC and the IPCC but was reportedly ignored in favour of the largely ambiguous terms which the agreement has today. These series of actions and flagrancies, for the umpteenth time, from such critical bodies to the campaign does cast a huge shadow of doubt as to the intensity of urgency that a concerned body like the UN itself has attached to curbing climate change.
The enforcement of the Paris Agreement officially comes into play in 2020 and the success of the entire effort is hinged on the efficacy of the enforcement procedures. The terms surrounding the enforcement itself are somewhat shifty; there are no set in stone instructions other than the signatory country is expected to pick its target and deliver while reporting on its performance along the way – the reporting being extremely crucial as well as sensitive to the assessment process. The Agreement itself is legally binding and as such defaulting countries would be faced with “legal penalties” if they fail to hold up to their ends of the bargain. As of today, it would not be entirely out of place for one to assume that most of the penalties would come as monetary fines and this begs for an answer to the question: what happens when a country becomes rich enough to afford to pump out emissions with reckless abandon?
For developed countries in Europe and North America, the enforcement of carbon emission laws has been in effect for a while with an emissions trading market worth about $30bn as at 2015 most notably springing up as an innovative capital idea to promote the adherence to the carbon emission control laws. The political clime in America today with a President Trump who has all but declared an apathy towards carbon emissions control and has supported this apathy by scrapping emission control regulation for vehicles and industries, emasculating the USEPA and promoting a return to coal consumption; the opposite of a singular action that was responsible for the US’ reduction in CO2 emission since 2015. This may have been bad news for many reasons but perhaps the silver-lining that surrounds the situation with environmental responsibility devolving from a central government to those of states and cities, serves as a model for the rest of the world to look up to. It should also be remarked that the United Kingdom does follow a similar pattern that has made it one of the global states with a very efficient carbon control policy. However, for most other countries that aren’t captured within the legislative web of North America and Western Europe, the development of a uniform mechanism that carries out the assessment process is both of utmost importance and still lacking; especially a mechanism that has been structured to bridge discrepancies between emitted and reported GHG (not just CO2) volumes while keeping the system as honest and transparent as possible. Also, rather than leaving individual countries to democratically impede the fight against Global Warming by working exclusively towards putting in minimum effort, perhaps a system or formula that takes present macro-determinants like rate of economic/population expansion, industrial activity and non-renewable energy consumption into consideration and using the obtained data to assign ambitious minimum emissions target. This might be deployed to greater efficiency in place of the current system that arguably allows for laxity.
If it is not unlikely that the entire world would commit faithfully to a plan to save the planet and the collective future of our species by making sacrifices that might significantly impact our global economies and our ways of living, the fight against global warming is by no means one that is constituted entirely of raw physical effort. According to sustainable investment organisations: Climate Bond Initiative and New Climate Economy, it is expectedly expensive and is estimated to cost the world somewhere between $53-93trn before 2040 – that is, if we are to do it correctly and succeed. Whether or not this includes the $100bn climate fund that has been specified by the Paris Agreement to be provided by developed countries to assist their developing counterparts in making the switch to climate smart economies is uncertain. However, if the pragmatism of developing carbon capture and 100% deployment of renewables still reside within the realm of debate, then perhaps, the sheer tremendousness, the immense incomprehensibility of creating almost $100trn in value that can be monetised with an aim of sustainable climate investment blows that field of imagination up in epic proportions. Still, the first steps are already being taken. Innovations in the fields of sustainable investing have created apparatuses like Green Bonds which have according to CBI, had their issuance values increase from $41bn in 2015 to a projected $150bn by the end of 2017 and have also garnered acceptance among investors even if this said mechanism comes with its complications. The Carbon Emissions Trading market has grown globally and is currently valued at between $30bn to nearly $150bn depending on market conditions. As examples the ETM and Green Bonds give an idea of some of the means through which the fight against global warming might be funded even if as of today, they cumulatively do not come up to half a trillion; an amount we would have to multiply by a hundred and eighty-six at least.
Proposing a carbon tax and enforcing it through a concept of trickle-down economics might also serve as an alternative. The theory of trickle-down economics has been argued by academics and economists alike to be a misguided and largely ineffective model of wealth distribution because in a colloquial sense, it reinforces an idea that the poor can only enjoy better lives and financial futures, when the rich are overfed either through tax cuts on businesses and high income individuals or as capital gains, dividends, etc. Inverting the system of taxation within the trickle-down model and infusing the deployment of carbon tax into it with an aim of ensuring that the carbon costs of goods and services are eventually transferred to their final consumers at a higher price but “at no extra cost” might make for a testable supposition. As a working hypothesis, the success of this system is not hinged on the transference of profits as in the conventional trickle down economic model but on the transference of the cost of responsibility from every constituent of the supply chain, to the final consumer and also as an expression of the polluter pays principle. Although, it should be remarked that the more revenue generated through this model as a means of financing the anti-global warming effort, all things being equal, does not translate to sustainable progress for the final goal of doing away with carbon emissions.
The Paris Agreement is viewed by sceptics and the general population as at least a first step towards success in the fight against climate change and for good reason. However, the moves that should follow, ought to follow closely, quickly and very ambitiously in respect of the urgency that climate action commands. There are arguments that the 2015 agreement is more or less an invitation which has been given out for as many to honour as possible while the real issues that they aim to tackle are “problems for future generations” as the political clime of the globe today does not give enough encouragement to drastic and decisive climate action – a notion to which the Paris Agreement is proof. This essentially transforms the agreement from its publicised determination to curb climate change to an obscure agreement on adaptation and mitigation to the prospects of a radically different future from what we know today. Rather than a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050, perhaps the world should be aiming more ambitiously at a -10% as the achievement of that would beyond the scope of any doubt, inspire confidence that might come in handy and offset the per capita carbon emissions in a globe with population projected to hit almost 12 billion by 2100. We shouldn’t only be focusing on renewable energy but on renewable energy that can be operational at near 100% efficiency for 365 days a year and that can also be used effectively with massively deployed carbon capture technology and that is if we are going to stand a chance at all.
Is there hope? Maybe, but usually, hope is what comes as an effect of working determinedly towards unlikely but desirable situations. If we would use the repletion of the ozone layer as a related example, it took hundreds of years to wreak the level of havoc that saw the hole open up in the first place and would also take as long, perhaps longer to repair. It has taken at least two hundred years to affect the atmosphere’s GHG composition, the way we have as of today, does knowing that together with the efforts being put in today, at least another hundred years would be required to bring the species back from the brink of danger? The time for climate action quite honestly is not now. To be fair, if we were determined not to have known better and made the same mistakes, the time for climate action must have been some 50-70 years ago going by just how long CO2 can remain thermodynamically potent as a GHG in the atmosphere. However, the question of hope remains open and hopefully, 2018’s COP23 would help provide more encouraging responses and answers.