Government tackles climate change

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PRESIDENT David Granger’s attention to fighting climate change and its probable effects may appear to some persons to be excessive, or even alarmist – if some local and international interests are to be believed. The scientifically verified facts, though, on the contrary, support the President’s position, and justify his efforts to not only educate Guyanese about the problem, but also to position Guyana as a world leader in the fight against this global concern. Moreover, the administration’s resolve to lead the international community’s struggle is understandable and more than warranted; it is, in fact, necessary. Guyana, after all, is one of the countries that will be hardest hit by climate change.

Generally, climate change – also known as global warming – is an alteration in the statistical distribution of global weather patterns that lasts for a prolonged period of time.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) defines this time period as 30 years. Climate change may be caused by natural phenomena over which humans have little control. Such phenomena include variations in solar activity and large-scale volcanic events. Since humans have no way of influencing those factors, scientists usually limit their technical efforts in those areas to observation and research, rather than attempted interventions. On the other hand, modification of the earth’s climate due to human activities – anthropogenic, forced change – is the direct result of human activities; and when experts speak about climate change, they usually mean anthropogenic or human-induced alterations to the planet’s climate.

Climate change is caused by human-induced modifications to the composition of the earth’s atmosphere, which results in more of the sun’s heat being trapped, thereby producing an increase in surface temperature and consequent variations in conditions for which life-forms may be unprepared and poorly adapted.

The earth’s atmospheric composition may be artificially altered by the release of dust particles or greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, into the air, due to human activities. Those facts had been known for centuries after Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin proved in 1899, that changes in climate could result from changes in the concentration of atmospheric gases. Dust and greenhouse gases are usually produced by industrial, agricultural, and power-generating processes. For example, the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal, to generate electricity produces massive quantities of those gases, as well as dust. Large quantities of those pollutants are released into the air.

Consequently, more heat is trapped on the earth, and a cascade of events occurs that destabilises the earth’s fragile climatic equilibrium, causing extreme weather events, disruption of ocean currents, and devastating effects on life-forms, both on land and in the sea, among others.

In the case of Guyana, climate change – which is already happening – would have catastrophic consequences. One of the most dramatic and direct effects of an increase of atmospheric temperature is the melting of the earth’s polar ice-caps. Scientists say that the earth has warmed by about two degrees since the beginning of the 20th century. Although two degrees may not appear to be a large number, the experts say that it makes a huge difference, since even a change of a tiny fraction of a degree can cause colossal variations to weather patterns and produce increases in sea levels. As it is, the melting of polar ice is not only observable, but the rate of attrition is frightening. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts that temperatures will continue to rise, more polar ice will melt, ocean levels will rise, and coastal communities could be affected to the point of total inundation.

Considering that 90 per cent of Guyana’s population lives on the coast, and that coast is already below the mean sea-level, Guyanese have a lot at stake.

The decision of the APNU+AFC government to take a leading role in advocating for global action is therefore not only justified, but necessary. To do otherwise would be irresponsible in the extreme. Government’s pursuit of a Green State Development Strategy, the signing of the Paris Agreement, the administration’s policy of international engagement on the issue, and President Granger’s obvious commitment to the cause is the least that any responsible, responsive, and proactive government would do.

Yes, Guyana is a small state; our influence on the world stage may be less than overwhelming; however, governments are elected to serve the interests of the people and the coalition government is certainly scoring well as regards this issue. Guyana will soon become an oil-producing country, and, with that status, our country’s policy- influence and leverage will be enhanced. Given all those facts, Guyanese should ensure that a leader that has demonstrated his commitment to the welfare of citizens is at the helm when Guyana’s international stature is elevated, because the consequences of the alternative are unthinkable.