From Fires to Floods to Sea Level Rise, Human-Induced Climate Crisis Is Severely Disrupting Earth

We continue to discuss the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which details the damage of climate change already underway around the world and warns that much worse is yet to come unless governments drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The report tallies the losses from human-induced climate change “in an absolutely scientifically verifiable and attributable manner,” says climate scientist Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh. “The path to keeping it below 1.5 degrees is diminishing by the hour.” We also continue with Kim Cobb and Bob Kopp, two lead authors of the new IPCC report.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! As we talk about the report, the 3,000-page report, almost a decade in the making, we are joined by two leading IPCC scientists. And we go to Bangladesh to speak, as well, with Saleemul Huq, climate scientist, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh. He’s been a longtime IPCC lead author, now joining us from Dhaka.

Your response to this report, Saleem?

SALEEMUL HUQ: Thank you very much, Amy.

My response is that this report has actually ushered in what I call the new era of loss and damage from human-induced climate change in an absolutely scientifically verifiable and attributable manner. There is no question at all that what we are seeing on our TV screens across the world, in terms of the wildfires, the heat dome effect in the North America, floods in China and India, are now — the severity of all of these have been increased because of human-induced climate change by enhancing the global temperature 1.2 degrees above preindustrial. And the path to keeping it below 1.5 degrees is diminishing by the hour, as Greta Thunberg said.

AMY GOODMAN: Did anything surprise you in this report, Saleem? And describe specifically what’s happening in Bangladesh.

SALEEMUL HUQ: So, this is not a surprising report. It’s an assessment of, as you have heard, 14,000 scientific papers which already exist and we’ve known about. It brings it all together and makes the case for urgency, I think, very, very strong.

The new aspect of it, I would say, as has already been alluded to by one of the lead authors, is that the science on attribution of extreme events has become a lot better. It used to be the case that these extreme weather events that we have could not be tied to human-induced climate change, as they are now able to be done. So, the heat dome effect in North America, for example, could not have happened without the human-induced climate change taking place. The severity of the wildfires in Southern Europe would not be so severe without human-induced climate change, and so on and so forth. These events are not caused by climate change, but they are becoming much, much, much more severe because of human-induced climate change having already raised global mean temperature by 1.2 degrees above preindustrial.

So, in Bangladesh, where I live, we’ve known this for over a decade. This is all old news. None of this is new news. It happens all the time. We are a country of 170 million people living on less than 150,000 square square kilometers on the delta of two of the world’s biggest rivers, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, and also susceptible to major cyclones coming in from the Bay of Bengal into hitting our country.

So, we’ve seen, just a year ago, a year and a bit ago, a supercyclone hit us, called Amphan, in May of 2020. It became a supercyclone while it was in the Bay of Bengal because the sea surface temperature was two degrees above normal. In past decades, supercyclones of that magnitude have actually killed hundreds of thousands of people. The good news is they don’t anymore. Bangladesh has probably the best cyclone warning and evacuation system in the whole world. Three million people were evacuated and took shelter, and the death rate was in the few dozens of people, most of whom were fishermen who were out at sea and didn’t get back to land in time. Three million people on land took shelter and survived. But nevertheless, the cyclone did a lot of damage. People lost their homes, their crops, their livelihood, infrastructure. So, even though the death rate has been brought down considerably, the destruction was not able to be prevented. And there will be more of that coming in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Saleemul Huq, the biggest greenhouse gas emitters are China and the United States. What do these two countries have to do?

SALEEMUL HUQ: These two countries are the key. The United States is still — even though China is the biggest greenhouse gas emitter now, the United States is still cumulatively the biggest contributor to the fact that we now have global temperature above 1.2 degrees centigrade. So, both these countries are going to have to step up their game. And, to me, they are key. If they can do it, everybody else will follow. They’ve done some — one must give credit for that — but they haven’t done enough.

And hopefully this report will spur them on to take even faster, more drastic action to wean themselves off fossil fuels, on coal, petroleum and natural gas, as quickly as possible and segue into a cleaner energy world of renewable energies, like solar, wind, together with storage, which is a key factor in utilizing these intermittent energy sources like wind and solar. With these three technologies, we should be able to wean ourselves off fossils very quickly and go into a new world based on renewable energies. The faster we do that, the better off everybody, including Americans and Chinese, will be. America and China are also quite vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, as they just found out in the last few weeks. So they’re not going to be able to adapt as quickly, either. So, the sooner they can reduce their emissions, the better. And the rest of the world will follow. They are the two key players.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me put this question to Robert Kopp. You have these massive issues of extreme weather. You have the western wildfires — California, Oregon, Washington — and yet it’s Denver, Colorado, that experiences the worst air quality in the world of any major city this weekend because of those fires in the west. You had the fires in Greece, the flooding in Bangladesh, where Saleemul Huq is. Is this the best we can hope for in the future? Is there any way to even mitigate against these kind of extreme weathers? Is this as good as it gets?

BOB KOPP: You know, what we’re basically facing is a world with about 1.1 degrees Celsius of warming. And so, even if we’re looking forward, we’re talking about one-and-a-half or 2 degrees C, and what we can say is that every increment of warming is going to make these sorts of impacts more severe. So, in order to stop things from getting worse, we need to get — as my colleague was saying, we need to get global greenhouse gas emissions to net zero, which requires a global effort. And these sorts of changes we see are basically what we see with the level of warming that we have, and we’re not coming back to this level of warming. So these are indeed going to get worse. But I think it’s important for us to bear in mind that we have very real control over how much worse they get.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Cobb, you are a specialist and you’ve done a lot of work around preserving coral reefs in the world. Can you talk about the effects of climate change on these coral reefs and why this is so significant, an indicator of what’s happening all over the world, even outside the coral reefs?

KIM COBB: Yes. The report flags coral reefs as an incredibly vulnerable ecosystem to current warming levels, as well as future warming levels. Corals live in a relatively narrow temperature tolerance, where if that temperature is exceeded, they bleach first — and that’s something that has hit the headlines in recent years. And if those conditions persist for even a matter of weeks, the corals will die.

And in 2016, we had a global-scale marine heat wave associated with one of the largest El Niño events on record, which is a natural climate cycle that, when superimposed on current warming levels of just over 1 degrees, was enough to bring to our records this historic coral bleaching and mortality event that swept every tropical ocean basin in the world. And so, many of us who study coral reefs were taken aback by just how quickly these extreme temperatures are at our doorstep and the absolutely devastating losses that reefs incurred in that year, a real wake-up call with respect to the ongoing risks on reef systems. It’s really important to remember that these reef systems are critical to the economies of so many island nations and tropical nations around the world, and provide the vast source of protein for over a billion people.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Saleemul Huq, I wanted to ask you about these massive incidents of extreme weather, the floods in Europe and South Asia, the wildfires in Greece, the United States, as well as Siberia. Can you talk about how — so often in the past, we saw this in poorer countries, but now we’re seeing it in the industrialized world repeatedly, relentlessly. Can you talk about the change in media coverage because of that?

SALEEMUL HUQ: Absolutely. So, as I said earlier, in Bangladesh, and indeed in the rest of the Global South, this is not news at all. We’ve known this for the last decade. We’ve been suffering. We’ve been dealing with it as best we can, with the rest of the global media not taking much interest — maybe a few seconds to report on a flood or a drought or a hurricane, and that was it. Now that it’s happening in the rich world, in Europe and in the United States, it’s getting a lot more wall-to-wall television coverage. I’ve been watching TV all day here in Dhaka about the Greek wildfires in Greece. I’m sure the Greeks never saw wall-to-wall coverage of what happened in Bangladesh when we had floods and cyclones. So, that’s a good thing, you know, in everybody now realizing we’re in the same boat and facing the same storm, even if we’re not all in exactly the same kind of boat.

But one of the interesting issues here is what the rich countries can actually learn from the poorer countries, like Bangladesh. I mentioned that Bangladesh has brought down the death rate of these events in a very, very significant fashion, by providing early warning and evacuation for people. The number of deaths that we saw in Germany, in one of the richest countries in the world — nearly 200 Germans actually died from flash floods — would never have happened in Bangladesh. We would have evacuated them. We do evacuate everybody that’s in the path of floods or in cyclones. In Germany, they weren’t able to do that. So, Germany could learn a lot from Bangladesh, and so could the United States, on how to deal with these impacts that they have not been used to, but we are used to doing them.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, Saleemul Huq, if you can talk about the significance of the climate summit that’s taking place in Glasgow, if in fact it happens as an in-person event or just a virtual one because of COVID, but the significance of this summit?

SALEEMUL HUQ: I think the Glasgow summit, the COP26, is going to be perhaps the most significant COP that we’ve had. Just a reminder that this was actually supposed to have been held last year, in December 2020, and it got postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, for valid reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow it to be held, so it was postponed by 12 months. But that’s a very critical 12 months, because climate change didn’t take 12 months off. It’s actually taking place. And I would say it actually crossed a threshold, which we’ve just seen with the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, that we are now living in a climate change world.

And so, as I said, we are now in the era of having to deal with loss and damage from human-induced climate change. And that’s going to be one of the topics that the vulnerable countries are going to bring up — indeed, they’ve already brought it up — in COP26 for treating it seriously, which has not been done so far. We’ve been talking about it for a long time; we’ve not been getting anywhere with it. Now it’s for the rich countries to recognize it’s the reality and do what they’re supposed to do, which is implement what they agreed to implement in Paris: keep the global temperature below 1.5 degrees and provide $100 billion a year to the developing countries to tackle climate change. They promised but didn’t deliver.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you all for being with us, Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, also want to thank Bob Kopp, Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, speaking to us from New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Kim Cobb, professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Tech.


Originally this interview was published on 09 August, 2021 at Democracy Now! news portal.