World - The climate crisis

The world climate crisis  credit: Gil Gibli

2021 was the year the world realized: If we keep delaying, it may be too late.

Within just two days, British Columbia in Canada had to deal with a full month's rainfall. Mudslides destroyed roads and bridges, more than 300 drivers were barely rescued from their cars, currents swept away trucks, and a state of emergency was declared. At least one person was killed, and nearly 20,000 people displaced from their homes watched from a distance as their property suffered heavy damage without them being able to do a thing. Day after day, 18,000 residents were stuck between mudslides and floods, forced to scramble for food from grocery stores shelves exposed to the elements.

"A once-in-500-years event," the authorities called the storm. But extreme climatic events are on the rise in frequency and intensity. The devastating floods that befell British Columbia were just one in a growing sequence of extreme events.

Just half a year earlier, an extreme heat wave struck the exact same area. Temperatures climbed to a peak 46.6 degrees Celsius. Hundreds died, apparently from the heat. Heavy floods also hit Germany, China and European countries this year, and there were more record-breaking heat waves.

In 2020, about 40 million people were displaced from their homes by droughts, heat waves, storms, and a variety of climate disasters - three times more than the number of people displaced by violence and wars around the world.

In 2021, faced with extreme weather events, humanity got a sense of how it feels to live in an ever-warming world, an earth already suffering the consequences of irreversible past damage. Anyone who has seen the bleak imagery alongside the scientific reports piling up over years cannot help but wonder, is what we see just a preview? What will happen if we fail to curb the crisis?

What if the warming increases the probability of reaching the point of no return, leading to the collapse of biological systems, accelerating the polar ice caps melting, and more? If 2021 was just a promo, what legacy are parents around the world leaving their children to deal with?

The earth is on a rapid warming trajectory, and even if it succeeds in reducing emissions - as pledged by 196 countries just a short time ago at the UN COP26 Climate Change Conference - temperatures will rise by at least 1.5 degrees Celsius in the 21st century. Humanity is pushing the natural system that supports life to its limits, thereby increasingly jeopardizing the ability to lead life safely on earth.

Environmental damage is also economic damage. The financial sector is already suffering heavy losses, and the loss of global GDP by 2050 is estimated in the range of 2.5% to 18.1% in a scenario of business as usual. In the Mediterranean, Middle East and Africa regions, where Israel and its neighbors are located, the estimated loss in GDP is even greater, in the range of 8.5% to 27.5%.

And with climate change leading to long-term effects and disasters, the World Bank estimates that the ecological and climate crisis will push between 32 million and 132 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.

In 2021, it seemed that the penny finally dropped, and that decision-makers were about to take the crisis seriously. This is a crisis that will change all aspects of life, from energy to transport, and consumption. The sense of urgency picked up a few months ago, when the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) placed a particularly serious report on the decision-makers' desks. In it, hundreds of scientists from around the world made clear: the climate crisis is real, it is already harming humanity, it is man-made, and its consequences will be felt for centuries to come. CO2 levels in the atmosphere are the highest in 800,000 years. Nevertheless, reducing emissions by 45% in the current decade will succeed in moderating the deterioration.

The IPCC report marks a turning point. After its publication, climate deniers have become as marginalized as anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists. "Sounding the alarm for humanity," the headlines declared, and all appealed to their leaders to drive the necessary change.

Even the most conservative bodies began to wake up. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that humanity’s roadmap does not correlate to the rate of global warming or the rules of physics, and that, even in the optimistic scenario, carbon emissions will fall by only 40% by 2050, and will not reach net-zero. Exploration and development of oil and gas fields must stop as soon as this year, the IEA warned, while humanity is still very far from stopping its reliance on fossil fuels.

The World Health Organization also stated, "The burning of fossil fuels is killing us," linking the climate crisis to the suffering of millions who die each year because of polluted air, extreme climate events, and drought. "This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet," the UN warned. But countries around the world subsidize the polluting fuel industry to the tune of $11 million per minute.

There has also been an awakening in the business sector, in one of the most memorable, significant moments of the year, and perhaps in the history of the environmental struggle. An action taken by a small hedge fund, Engine No.1, managed to impact one of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, ExxonMobil, and put the entire oil industry on alert.

Despite strong opposition from within the company, Engine No.1 was able to put three representatives on ExxonMobil’s 12-person board of directors. ExxonMobil is not only among those energy companies whose contribution to global warming is particularly pronounced, but it has for years utilized lobbyists to delay the transition to a low-carbon economy, and used its money to deny climate science, and seed doubt about the existence of the crisis.

Indeed, for a moment it seemed like the warnings from scientists and organizations was not falling on deaf ears. So far, what has been done is too little and too slowly to prevent further global warming, but when the politicians made their way to the so-called "fateful" COP26 they sounded almost like Greta Thunberg. We are the last generation that can stop this disaster, they said. But at the end of the conference, they released a feeble statement, the biggest news being that they would not wait another five years until making their next statement, and that they would convene again next year.

When the conference on which many had pinned their hopes ended this way, the public realized that no one would save it. More than 100,000 people marched on the streets of Glasgow, terming COP26 "greenwashing." From there, they went back to their countries, furious, and aware that if they did not demand climate justice from the leaders, it would not happen.

And what about Israel? Here, too, there was progress. More than 10,000 people marched in the Tel Aviv climate march, calling on politicians to wake up. But the awakening is slow, and the issue seems to remain remote and amorphous for most of the public. The man who has most influenced public understanding is State Comptroller Matanyahu Engelman who, in a special audit report on national climate action, described in over 700 pages the government's failure to deal with the crisis. "Israel's response to the climate crisis and the advancement of the goals set on the issue range from laggardly to zero," he said.

This hot potato of a report was left on the doorstep of the new government, which will have to study it and work to correct the failures noted within. Israel lags behind the world in dealing with the crisis. For now, statements made by the government about transitioning to renewable energy remain without any clear long-term plan.

In 2022, the same government will have to prove to the public that its statements are indeed true. It will have to decide if its lovely statements about the climate crisis can be reconciled with what is happening in the field - from the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline deal with the UAE, to the Ministry of Energy’s eyeing more gas drilling. It is highly doubtful that the public will allow actions that minimize the magnitude of the climate crisis to go unaddressed once more.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 30, 2021.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2021.

The world climate crisis  credit: Gil Gibli
The world climate crisis credit: Gil Gibli
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