As dedicated viewers of the global TV sensation Game of Thrones are keenly aware, “winter is coming.” The finale of the fantasy drama show, back on screens for its final season, will feature the final clash between kingdoms vying to sit upon the Iron Throne.
On social media, fans have been berating politicians and journalists for co-opting the show’s imagery for their own ends – especially the headline-friendly warning “winter is coming.” The irony, as the author of the books upon which the show is based said last week, is that “winter” – the impending destruction of all human life by an army of the dead – is a metaphor not for petty political power games but for the existential threat of climate change.
In five months’ time, the 194 nations that signed up to the 2015 Paris Agreement will gather in New York to reaffirm their commitment to restrict the global temperature increase this century to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The world is already 1 degree warmer than in the 19th century. The cost of the planet heating up further, by an almost inevitable half a degree or even more, was spelled out in a major report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October.
These are some of the differences between an increase in temperature of 1.5 and 2 degrees: Either 14% or 37% of the world’s population will suffer conditions of extreme heat, between 350 million and 411 million more people will experience extreme drought and between 31 million and 80 million will be exposed to sea flooding. Some regions will pay a higher price, and more quickly, than others. At 1.5 degrees of warming, the Mediterranean and the Middle East will suffer a 9% drop in the availability of water, rising to 17% at 2 degrees.
To limit warming to 1.5 degrees, global emissions of carbon dioxide have to decline by at least 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and to zero by 2050 – a target that most experts now fear is impossible, even with the full and urgent cooperation of every nation on Earth. That cooperation, as US President Donald Trump’s continuing refusal to acknowledge the truth of climate change alone makes clear, is unlikely to be forthcoming.
Small wonder that at the launch last month of the World Meteorological Organization’s State of the Global Climate report, UN Secretary General António Guterres’ plea to world leaders ahead of the September summit smacked of desperation. “Don’t come with a speech,” he said. “Come with a plan.” Climate change, he added, “is moving faster than our efforts to address it.”
What the world needs now is action – a reality recognized by the Extinction Rebellion street protests that erupted in world cities this month, urging leaders to “tell the truth about climate change.” In part, the protests were triggered by the WMO report, which confirmed that the past four years were the warmest on record and delivered a series of bleak messages.
In 2018, ocean temperatures hit a record high and global sea levels continued to rise as Arctic and Antarctic sea-ice continued to retreat. Unprecedented extreme weather ‘had an impact on lives … on every continent’
In 2018, ocean temperatures hit a record high and global sea levels continued to rise as Arctic and Antarctic sea-ice continued to retreat. Unprecedented extreme weather “had an impact on lives … on every continent.”
In late October and November atypical heavy rain and flooding affected various parts of the Middle East, one of the regions likely to be among the earliest big losers if global warming continues unchecked. On October 20, 84 millimeters of rain fell in six hours at Abu Hamor in Qatar. On October 28, 102.8mm fell in 24 hours in Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. On November 9, 49.2mm fell in 24 hours at Kuwait Airport. Flash floods with loss of life were reported in Jordan in October and November and in Iraq during November.
The entire MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region experienced exceptionally high temperatures last June and July. On June 26, the overnight temperature at Quriyat, Oman, “fell” to only 42.6 degrees Celsius – one of the highest minimum temperatures experienced anywhere. In July, daytime temperatures in Ouargla, Algeria, hit 51.3 degrees, which was both a national record and only 5.4 degrees short of the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth, logged in Death Valley, California, on July 10, 1913.
In Paris in 2015 the world agreed to limit the global average temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees and to keep it as close as possible to 1.5 degrees. Fat chance, was the stark message of the WMO report. It concluded that, as the atmospheric concentration of the major greenhouse gases continues to rise, “we are not on track to meet climate-change targets and rein in temperature increases.”
In New York in September the world will gather again to discuss the radical steps that really ought to be taken, but which almost certainly will not be contemplated until it is far too late. In the developed and the developing world, national, commercial and personal short-term self-interest will continue to take precedence over the long-term future of the planet.
Ahead of New York, Guterres is pleading for much more radical action, including an end to subsidies for fossil fuels and unsustainable agricultural practices, a dramatic acceleration in the closure of coal plants and a rapid and determined global conversion to renewable energy and electric vehicles.
In the final season of Game of Thrones, the hope of humanity rests in the hands of one Jon Snow, the only leader capable of uniting humankind against the great existential threat it faces. Right now, the real world could use such a leader. With apologies to fans of Game of Thrones, winter is indeed coming and, as one character in the last season observed, when it does, it won’t matter whose skeleton is sitting on the Iron Throne.
This article was provided to Asia Times by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.