Since the industrial revolution began, human society has emitted a massive amount of CO2 into the atmosphere, raising its concentrations to an unprecedented 415 ppm today that is 50% over pre-industrial times. This has destabilized our climate and already caused an average global temperature rise of a little over 1°C. The consequences are rapid glacier melt, rising sea levels, acidifying oceans, greater monsoon unpredictability, more extreme weather events such as heat waves and heavy rainfall, which have posed a grave threat to both the natural world and to human society.
The acceleration in the rate of change of climate change impacts today is worrisome—Himalayan glaciers are melting twice as fast as they did 25 years ago, sea level rise is 50% more than earlier, cyclone intensity has increased, insect populations are dwindling rapidly, and droughts and extreme weather events have become more frequent.
Despite the 2015 inter-governmental Paris Agreement, CO2 emissions are still rising; and at current emission rates, we will cross the 1.5-2oC do-not-cross temperature rise redline in a few decades. Climate change has put the earth’s environment and human society at the risk of drastic and permanent damage. Without immediate and deep emission cuts, temperature rise by 2100 may be 3-4oC over pre-industrial times, and possibly more if inherent tipping points are crossed. In other words, the average temperature in future may be nearly as high as what meteorological departments currently classify as heat waves.
South Asia is one of the most vulnerable areas in the world to climate change impacts. Barring Bhutan and Sri Lanka, all other South Asian nations are at very high risk to climate change. By 2100, Pakistan will be extremely water stressed, the Maldives will drown, a quarter of Bangladesh will be under the sea, causing tens of millions of climate refugees, Nepal will face unprecedented floods from melting glaciers, and parts of India will reel under floods while other parts will face continuous drought.
The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres’s has described the current situation as “an emergency we face, and that unless we make a course change by 2020, we face the possibility of a runaway climate change with disastrous consequences.” The United Kingdom and Ireland have recently declared a climate emergency, as have many cities in Canada, Australia, USA, New Zealand, Switzerland, Austria, Spain and Belgium. Climate emergency declarations cover 100 million people today, but how these official declarations will translate into climate change mitigation action is yet unclear.
It is in this context that a group of individuals and organisation across South Asia came together to form South Asian People’s Action on Climate Crisis (SAPACC).