Weather anomalies, El Niño, drought, mass coral bleaching and the worst
hurricane on record are symptomatic of the effects of climate change upon our
warming planet. With the Climate Change Summit in Paris quickly
approaching, the world is anticipating that a binding agreement will be
reached to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases (GHGs).
Last Saturday, Mexico braced itself for the ‘potentially catastrophic’ onslaught
of the worst storm on record, with Hurricane Patricia looming along the
southwest coast. With wind speeds of up to 200mph, scientists would have
labelled the hurricane as high as a category 7, if the scale went up that far.
With air pressure reaching a record low of 879 millibars, Patricia was
officially the worst hurricane ever measured in the Western hemisphere.
Hurricanes build up from warm ocean temperatures, making climate change
and El Niño both significant instigators in Patricia’s rapid acceleration.
Thankfully, that speed proved self-defeating, as moisture did not accumulate
fast enough to cause the expected harmful downpour. The warnings remained
warranted nonetheless with scientists expecting more storms of this nature in
the near future as ocean temperatures continue to rise.
These same rising temperatures are causing coral reefs around the world to let
go of their precious symbiotic photosynthetic partners in the third global
bleaching event of its kind. The delicate coral polyps release their colourful
zooxanthellae when the water increases in temperature, reducing entire
ecosystems to ghostly white skeletons. The longer the coral stays like this, the
more likely they are to sustain permanent damage and even die. The mass
extinction that is expected to kill up to 38% of the world’s coral has already
begun in the Great Barrier Reef, with scientists expecting it to continue into
Coral is considered the canary in the coalmine for climate change. Once seen
as part of the solution, the ocean absorbs much of the dangerous GHGs from
the atmosphere. The problem with this is that the oceans have become acidic,
which further undermines their capacity to absorb more GHGs. This creates a
negative feedback cycle, further damaging delicate marine ecosystems that
survive in coral reefs. Containing up to a quarter of the planet’s marine life
within these precious ecosystems, climate change poses a significant risk to
the biodiversity and health of our oceans, upon which a significant portion of
the planet depends for life.
On land, places like Australia stand to experience severe drought in the face of
the current extreme El Niño event. Similarly, El Niño is putting Ethiopia
through its worst drought in thirty years. Increased food insecurity through
crop devastation will see further deaths and conflict arise as water and other
resources become scarcer. Earlier this year (May to June 2015) an extreme
heatwave in India killed 2,500 people. With little relief from the rains, the
monsoon season is arriving later and further south than usual. In the Pacific, rising sea levels continue to encroach upon the habitats of island communities
such as Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands, which have already been forced to
relocate nationals from the Choiseul Province.
Reports from the International Panel on Climate Change find that even under
the most stringent lowest projected-emissions scenario, Representative
Concentration Pathways, RCP2.6, the oceans will face high risk of impacts in
the next thirty to fifty years. If the International community can reach an
agreement in Paris in December, the world will still pray that States will
finally comply with the climate change regime, for if we do not, we stand to
see further conflicts, natural disasters and extreme weather anomalies before
the end of the century.