Climate change, how real is it?

Two decades have passed since the issue of climate change and its global impact has made media headlines, led to several rounds of diplomatic negotiations and inspired countless disaster movies. While, global public opinion is largely in favour of the argument that climate change is an imminent threat to humankind, there are also in equal measure, a number of skeptics.

Now, to convince those who believe that climate science is a sham; a 2013 survey of several thousand peer-reviewed scientific papers in journals indicated that of those researchers who took a position on anthropogenic global warming (AGW), 97.1 %  agreed that climate change is caused by human activity. The study titled Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature[1] provided a strong ground for those fighting contrarians who insist that the science of climate change remains unsettled. The study also described supporters of the contrarian view to be a “vanishingly small proportion” of published research. This study was done in the light of public opinion continuing to lag behind the science and as a consequence diminishing the prospects of political action to fight climate change. In fact, the authors of the study blamed strenuous lobbying efforts by industry to undermine the science behind climate change for the gap in perception thereby resulting in confusion and the blocking of efforts to act on climate change.

Fortunately, the past year (2014-15) has shown a massive shift in public opinion regarding climate change, thanks to several prominent political and religious figures supporting the view and inspiring people to be active participants in the debate. However, as always, not every view propounded by world leaders to address climate change is acceptable to developing nations, particularly for those living in poverty and who are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.


The impact of Climate Change on those in poverty.

Climate change and its varied impact on poverty and developing countries have been a major focus of international strategic studies. While there is a consensus that the Copenhagen talks (in 2009) on Climate Change ended in failure, it proved to be a useful platform for climate change advocates to clarify that manmade effects on the environment are detrimentally affecting populations across the world.

 Within the last five years alone, the world has witnessed multiple large scale natural disasters and numerous other regional conflicts over resources. Recent studies of Himalayan tectonic plate movement and resulting earthquakes has indicated a correlation with climate change. The study attributes glacier melting as a reason for tectonic movement. As recently as last week he city of Chennai was coping with severe floods as a result of unprecedented heavy rainfall. Scientists have affirmed that this was caused by the periodical El Nino effect exacerbated by climate change.

 While the world rejoices on the new agreement, a contemporary re-analysis on climate change clearly re-amplifies the now archaic but ever relevant ‘inconvenient truths’.

  1. Developing countries are facing numerous climate issues and natural drivers duly accelerated by anthropogenic activity.

  1. Developed and industrialised countries have been consuming the major share of the global carbon budget while threatening to leave limited space for developing countries. However; developed countries are willing to accept their responsibility and seek a way forward.

  1. The number of poor and general poverty will continue to grow, representing roughly one- third of the total world population. Moreover, people in geographically vulnerable locations would be adversely affected by geophysical outcomes resulting from climate change.

  1. The real limit to economic growth would be an outcome of a climate-constrained world and clearly if so, distributional conflicts would increase manifold.

  1. The fact is, that emissions from industrialized countries and fast-growing economies would peak soon as a result of current lifestyles and patterns of production and consumption. It is clear that addressing this will entail huge costs and it is near impossible to see how that would be politically possible without a politically binding global agreement and targets.

Climate Change affects many elements of the world economy from business to agriculture and their sustainability. To people living in Low-income countries, climate change would remain a remote topic of concern compared to more immediate issues such as poverty, disease and hunger although without a doubt the consequences of climate change would affect long-term development. Needless to say, climate change will significantly increase the frequency and strength of extreme weather events, particularly among the many regions of the world where there already is a long history of serious disasters. In most circumstances, the greatest human suffering occurs when vulnerable communities are exposed to potentially hazardous events without the ability to absorb the impact.

Climate Change, adaptation and vulnerable communities.

Clearly progress has been made at Paris in 2015 but this is not sufficient to tackle the rise in temperature and the consequent incidence of natural calamities. Natural disasters are a common parlance however it is not often remembered that both vulnerability and hazard are direct outcomes of human activities. In recent years, the ‘International Commission on Risk Reduction and Adaptation’ was launched to explore and promote effective ways of  integrating risk reduction and adaptation to climate change as a cross-cutting issue into development and poverty reduction plans in developing countries. This was done to secure future investment in development aid to take full account of climate stresses and increased disaster risks. Likewise, the UN ISDR was initiated specifically to tackle issues of disaster risk reduction and works towards, building partnerships and taking a global approach for disaster reduction, seeking to involve every individual and every community towards the goals of reducing the loss of lives, the socio-economic setbacks and the environmental damages caused by natural hazards.

The majority of these disaster risk reduction initiatives include 1) Analysing and subsequently identifying the incentives as well as the barriers for developing countries in undertaking risk reduction and climate proofing measures into their development efforts. 2) Planning and coordination of international development cooperation in the field of adaptation and risk reduction. 3) Clarifying the linkages and considering how best to combine the long-term efforts for climate change mitigation and the urgent need to support adaptation efforts. 4) Giving a strong emphasis on achieving policy coherence through efforts to integrate climate change concerns along with wider development efforts.

Energy security is a global need and not just the right of some countries in the post-Kyoto regime. From a developing country such as India’s perspective, it is a bitter compromise when it has to curb industrial advancement and economic growth to make amends for the wrongs of developed nations. Having said that, the world has to act collectively and India along with several developing nations understands the need of the hour. While more needs to be done to access mitigation and adaptation funding, countries like India should also seek to curb unsustainable lifestyles wherever they exist, renew commitment to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and eradicating poverty.

Author is the Founder Trustee to CPPR. Views of the authors expressed are personal.*

[1] John Cook1,2,3, Dana Nuccitelli2,4, Sarah A Green5, Mark Richardson6, B¨arbel Winkler2, Rob Painting2, Robert Way7, Peter Jacobs8 and Andrew Skuce2,9 Online at

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Sepi Sebastian was Executive Director at CPPR.

Seppi Sebastian
Seppi Sebastian
Sepi Sebastian was Executive Director at CPPR.

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