Environment: Action needed on global warming

The tsunami disaster highlighted the dangers of coastal communities being inundated due to cyclones, floods and extreme weather events.

The risks facing hundreds of millions in river deltas and other low lying areas are dramatically increased by the effects of global warming, which is the result of burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

Over the past hundred years global sea levels have risen 10-25 cm, most likely related to an increase in global temperatures of 0.3-0.6°C. 15 years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that a sea-level rise of one metre was possible this century.

This would displace populations, destroy low-lying urban infrastructure, inundate arable lands, contaminate fresh water supplies and alter coastlines. The flooding of deltas would deprive Egypt of 15% of its arable land and Bangladesh of 14% of its net cropped area. Worldwide hundreds of millions would be displaced.

A few years later the IPCC increased their estimate to 0.9-3.5 °C by 2100 and said that the average rate of global warming would be greater than any seen in the last 10,000 years. If the IPCC trends are projected further into the future, a mean global warming of 10°C could take place. This would correspond to a sea level rise of four metres producing devastating consequences.

However, since this projection was made global warming trends have become even worse, with year after year of record high temperatures being recorded.

The symptoms of global warming will not simply be a gradual rise in sea levels but increasingly violent and extreme weather events that will put coastal areas, particularly in the poorest countries, at risk.

As a result of the rising sea level, these communities will also be vulnerable to future tsunamis of a much smaller magnitude than the recent event in the Indian Ocean, but which could occur much more frequently.

Early warning of tsunamis and earthquakes and also of extreme weather events, is crucial to minimise the casualties.

The UK’s Chief Scientist has proposed that a new international body of experts similar to the IPCC be set up to evaluate the risks from earthquakes and volcanoes, and to advise governments on how to co-ordinate research on forecasting.

Even now, it is possible to minimise the risks from earthquakes by designing buildings to withstand their effects.

In the most recent major quake in an urban area in the USA, in San Francisco, only a handful died. However, the Bam earthquake in Iran a year ago killed tens of thousands because there were no earthquake proof buildings. Again and again natural disasters affect the poor peoples of the ex-colonial world the most.

Earthquakes may be unstoppable natural disasters, but predicting them is not necessarily beyond human capability. Much research is going on now and progress is being made, but a unified, coordinated international effort is needed.

The major governments’ record on co-operation to combat global warming is not a good omen though. They all put their national interests first. That means of course the profits of ’their’ multinational companies, and as a result they have completely failed to come up with an effective strategy.

Effective action to minimise the effects of earthquakes could hit similar problems, because when major spending is needed, protecting multi-national company profits always will come first for Bush and Blair.

Genuine co-operation can only happen with a system that is not based on competing capitalist nation states but on internationalism and human solidarity, in other words with a socialist world.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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January 2005