Levuka, Fiji - How much longer will we see this sight? (Photo Credits: Linus Cheung)
“2016 will be the hottest year on record, UN says.” Oh really?
”2016 locked into being hottest year on record, NASA says.” Uh oh.
Considering how the human race is just a miniscule proportion of the Earth’s entire ecosystem yet has such a massive impact on its structure and function, and how much we humans rely on the environment in our day to day lives, I believe that the important changes in the environment should be treated as some of the most significant events this year.
Earlier this year in May, 5 Pacific islands had already been lost to rising sea levels. Although it has been long predicted that numerous islands would be lost to this way, there has never been such solid proof of the permanent disastrous impact of climate change and global warming. Not only have 5 islands in the Solomon Islands been lost entirely, six more islands are now critically threatened, with entire villages destroyed and people forced to relocate in 2 of the 6 islands. The warning signs have never been so obvious and urgent. As a student from Hong Kong, a coastal city incorporating several islands, this should remind us that we are not invulnerable to climate change – we may not be in immediate danger of completely disappearing, but one day we may be the next climate change refugees if the current trend persists.
Moving on to the poles, there was more heartbreaking news: the total loss of sea ice off the coast of Antarctica and the Arctic has now exceeded the total area of India – more than 3.76 million sq. kilometres. This was followed by a record high temperature of 20oC above average in parts of the Arctic, which made 2016 the hottest year on record. While we in Hong Kong are experiencing a few degrees’ rise in temperature, the much greater temperature increase at the poles would lead to a devastating impact on the world’s ecosystem by the rapid melting of sea ice. Can we afford to lose another two, three India’s worth of sea ice? We might as well become one of the submerged islands if we turn a blind eye to climate change.
So what can we expect in the coming year?
Not much change, it seems.
While the president-elect of the US has already been causing great uncertainty in trade and diplomacy, he has also decided to against the consensus of the science community (and general common sense) on the very real existence and dangers of climate change. He appointed several climate change deniers and prominent figures in the oil and gas industries to his cabinet, including Scott Pruitt who sued the Environmental Protection Agency multiple times when he was the attorney general of Oklahoma. His agenda of bringing back millions of jobs in the energy industry (however realistic that may be) also pushes the US back to the old ways of generating energy through unsustainable methods like burning fossil fuels, rather than following the global trend of developing greener energy.
Another regression to be expected from the Trump administration is the US’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in an attempt to slow climate change. Whether the Paris agreement will actually produce any significant change in climate change trends is highly debated, but the rejection of the very principle of the agreement – multilateral, international cooperation for the benefit of the future generations of humanity – rings many warning bells. Despite Obama’s efforts in accelerating the US’s commitment to slowing down climate change, including his recent act in permanently banning drillings in the Arctic, the US’s withdrawal from green leadership greatly increases the chances of other economic powerhouses, such as China (not exactly the poster child of green energy), leading environmental protection talks. This may lead towards looser international obligations towards sustainability, and industrialising countries are likely take advantage of such agreements.
In the end, there is only one Earth, and we all have a responsibility towards this planet. There are people who put the blame on others and deny their responsibility, but I hope that everyone – from world leaders to the average person like you and me – understands that we have a stake in the health of our planet, and we must take action now.