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Nargis not just a natural disaster, but a human-made disaster because of climate change

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The deaths of over 20,000 people and reports of over 40,000 missing is a sad reminder to the world that it has done little to contain greenhouse gas emissions, says the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and the Environment (CSE).     

    * Climate change is urgent, real and happening. We know that large parts of the sub-continent will be worst impacted. We know that we are climate victims.
    * But we do not connect the dots to recognise the fact that the tropical cyclone Nargis, which has led to such enormous devastation in Myanmar, is also because of changing climate. It is not just a natural disaster.
    * The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has established that climate change will intensify cyclones.
    * Is Nargis then the beginning of the change? If so, why is the rich industrialised world doing so little to contain its emissions? Why are we not recognising that these are victims of climate change? Why are we not beginning to penalise the polluters, so that emissions are reduced?


Tropical cyclone Nargis, which has killed over 20,000 people and reportedly left 40,000 missing in its wake, is not just a natural disaster, says Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). “While we can never pinpoint one disaster as the result of climate change, there is enough scientific evidence that climate change will lead to intensification of tropical cyclones,” says Sunita Narain, director, CSE.

“Nargis is a sign of things to come. Last year, Bangladesh was devastated by the tropical cyclone Sidr. The victims of these cyclones are climate change victims and their plight should remind the rich world that it is doing too little to contain its greenhouse gas emissions,” Narain added.

What the IPCC says

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The 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had clearly observed that cyclones will increase in their intensity as a result of global warming. According to the IPCC: “There is observational evidence of an increase of intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970, correlated with increases of tropical sea surface temperatures”.

The IPCC also notes that “based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical sea surface temperatures”.

Big polluters responsible for these deaths and devastation

Says Mario D’Souza, CSE’s climate change researcher: “The voices of the victims of climate change must be heard. Like the tropical cyclone Sidr, which ripped through Bangladesh in 2007, the Nargis has also left thousands dead and homeless. This devastation happened because the rich failed to contain emissions necessary for their growth.”

Points out Narain: “This is the challenge of climate science. It is clear that while we will never be able to make absolute predictions or direct correlations between events that we see around us and the warming that is now inevitable, there is enough evidence to make connections. For instance, we know that rainfall in our world will become more variable – devastating for people dependent on rain-fed agriculture. And now we can see the intensification of tropical cyclones, another prediction of climate science.”

Climate change is related to economic growth and wealth creation. The bulk of greenhouse emissions are related to burning of fossil fuels, for the energy that drives the world. It is no wonder then that the rich industrialised world, responsible for the bulk of the emissions in the atmosphere, has found it difficult to cut its emissions. After all, “its lifestyle is not negotiable”, as a former American president has said.

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In this growth path, ‘more’ is the mantra. While science tells us that drastic reductions are needed, no country is talking about limiting consumption.

But these emissions and lifestyles are now spelling doom for countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh – and the big polluters of the world, such as the US, cannot escape their responsibility and role in the ‘dance of death’ of tropical cyclones like Nargis. “The question that the world needs to answer now,” says Narain, “is how to make these countries pay for the victims of climate change.”

The only way it can be done is by making them reduce their emissions drastically – 30 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. There is no comparison between the emissions of countries like India or even China and rich big emitters of the world. There is a stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, built up over centuries in the process of creating nations’ wealth. “This is the natural debt of nations, and they must pay up,” says D’Souza.  

The fact is that these countries are doing too little to cut their emissions. While the Kyoto Protocol agreed to meager emission reduction targets of 5 per cent by 2012, between 1990 and 2005, emissions have increased. In fact, emissions of countries like the US have increased by a whopping 20 per cent during that period. This is unacceptable.

It is time the voices of the victims of climate change are raised to demand tougher action from the rich world to reduce emissions. It is time that the victims are compensated and the climate polluters penalised.

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Source: CSE 

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