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Climate Change Study Warning – Tropical Climates affected 10 years Earlier than the rest of the World

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A new research has been added to the debate over climate change, stating an alarming scenario: by the middle of this century, the hottest years could become the coolest recorded over the last 150 years.  The timing of climate departure from recent variability depends on location, but is a global phenomenon causing severe “economical and societal disruptions”, warns a recent study developed by the University of Hawaii at Manoa and published in scientific journal Nature. Having immediately caught the attention of news authorities like Reuters or The Guardian, the paper published on October 10th is becoming increasingly famous.

Methodology and Main Findings

The University of Hawaii scientists calculated “an index of the year when the mean climate of any given location on Earth will shift continuously outside the most extreme records experienced in the past 150 years”, using the minimum-maximum temperature range recorded at any given location between 1860 and 2006.

Two scenarios were considered: the “optimistic” scenario (RPC 45) assumes the world greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions stabilize at 538 ppm by 2100; under the business-as-usual case (RPC 85), CO2 concentration was assumed to reach 936 ppm by the same time. Under the latter scenario, world average mean temperature will depart from recent variability in 2047, while under the stabilized GHG emissions, the climate will change dramatically in 2069.

The methodology included calculations of climate variables such as evaporation and precipitation, but also ocean surface temperature and ph. Analysis of the sea surface ph indicated that in 2008, the historical maximum values were surpassed. The acidification of the ocean (continuous decrease of the ocean’s ph) is explained by the addition of anthropogenic CO2 to the water. This process is assumed to have severe effects on most species.

The Timing of Climate Departure

According to the scientists, “the tropics will be the first to exceed the limits of historical extremes (some 10 years earlier than anywhere else in the world) and experience an unabated heat wave that threatens biodiversity and heavily populated countries with the fewest resources to adapt”.  Under the “optimistic” scenario, over one billion people (five billion, under the other scenario) live in predominately developing countries that will experience severe climate change within our lifetime.

Climate departure for the Indian cities of Mumbai and Chennai is calculated as early as 2034 under business-as-usual scenario (2051 and 2052 under the stabilized GHG emissions case), while the New Delhi indexes are calculated as 2050 and 2081, respectively. China’s average climate departure year was calculated to be 2046 (or 2073 under the optimistic scenario), while Pakistan cities will surpass historic climate maximums as early as 2035 / 2055 (Karachi) and 2042 / 2064 (Islamabad). Cities from the Latin America and Africa have relatively early climate departure dates (Bogota 2033 / 2047 , Mexico City 2031 / 2050; Lagos 2029 / 2043 , Nairobi 2036 /2058  by the usual / average scenarios), while Indonesia appears to have the earliest index of 2020. A list of indexes for the major cities of the world is available on the study’s webpage, showing that the changes will occur sooner for higher-latitude locations. As the study’s authors themselves suggest, it is ironic that the first countries affected by this unprecedented warming are “the least responsible for climate change in the first place”, developing countries that had little historic contribution to the world GHG emissions.

Financial Implications of Climate Change

If any of the two scenarios are right, the implications of this unprecedented climate change for the global economy are colossal. “The impacts on the tropics have implications globally as they are home to most of the world’s population, contribute significantly to total food supplies, and house much of the world’s biodiversity”. This worldwide crisis affects us all, from national governments to individuals and different aspects of it are becoming a constant part of our everyday life. Anyone who’s paid bills or gone shopping in the last two decades knows that the overall cost of life – from the food we buy to the fuels helping transport it to the supermarket shelf – has increased dramatically and continues to do so. Under these circumstances, every detail of our everyday and long-term personal finance planning becomes important. Unfortunately, one can easily notice the gap between governments’ intentions to mitigate climate change and develop a sustainable economy and the actual results on either of the global or individual level. Along the years, the first international climate change commitments  evolved into more and more detailed documents addressing specific economic and social issues, this is a continuous effort for worldwide policy makers. However, as shown by the study, results of the current GHG emission reduction policies are not yet effective: the earth’s near-surface mean temperature continues to grow for any given location and all of the world’s oceans are more acid each year.

One of the biggest issues highlighted by the Nature study appears to be the one related to “the functioning of Earth’s biological systems, forcing species to either move in an attempt to track suitable climates, stay and try to adapt to the new climate, or go extinct”. This can be explained by the same factor determining why tropical locations are the ones affected first by the climate warming: there is little historic climate variation in these locations, and so the native species are less able to adapt. “This probably occurs because the relatively small natural climate variability in this region of the world generates narrow climate bounds that can be easily surpassed by relatively small climate changes. However, small but fast changes in the climate could induce considerable biological responses in the tropics, because species there are probably adapted to narrow climate bounds”. Also, as most of the world’s biodiversity is concentrated in the tropics, species becoming extinct is a global problem that will lead to food crisis.

Other Opinions and Recommendation on Climate Change

A similar set of climate change predictions and recorded data was included in the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Fifth Report published in September 2013. As previously discussed, there is 95% certainty that human activities have determined the current climate warming. Since the 1950s, oceans and surface temperature of the earth have warmed, and the climate system as a whole is going through a series of unprecedented changes. According to the Report, a global food crisis is imminent as the global average temperature increases by 5 – 9 degrees by 2100 and most of the earth becomes uninhabitable.

Both the University of Hawaii’s study and the IPCC Fifth Report recommend the increasing commitment of the developed countries to reduce GHG emissions. The former also suggests “more extensive funding of social and conservation programs in developing countries to minimize climate change impacts”. The development of green government policies, but also investment in sustainable buildings and industry are becoming more important than ever, and this spreads across politic and geographic boundaries. Developed countries situated in more favorable locations should help repair the harm created by the GHG emissions of past industries and assist the countries that, although did not participate in the anthropogenic source of climate change, suffer from it the most.

“The longer we wait, the more difficult remediation will be”, warn the University of Hawaii scientists.

 This article was written by Melissa Bullen.



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