Oxford Climate Society President 2017/18
the latest in climate science and policy
Due to finish last Friday, this year’s UN climate conference limped through the night to dawn on Saturday morning. With all of this year’s proceedings closed, OCS reviews what progress was made towards meaningful action on climate change over the past fortnight.
Author: Felix Heilmann, Oxford Climate Society Vice President 2017/18 and Convenor of the Oxford School of Climate Change
The facts are clear. The most existential threat to our common future comes in the form of emissions created by what our economy runs on at the moment – fossil fuels that heat up the world’s climate. This is the astounding simplicity at the heart of what seems to be one of the world’s most complex problems. It is important to recall this as the climate negotiations make headlines over the course of these two weeks.
It is also worth recalling that there is, all in all, a surprisingly broad agreement from corporate boardrooms to civil society marches on the most fundamental principle on how a liveable future should look like – it is a future in which all major sectors of the society and economy have been successfully decarbonised, e.g. through the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy, increases in efficiency, and the like.
Naturally, there are disagreements on what exactly such a future should look like, and even more disagreement on how to get there – should governments take political action, or should we just trust market forces? Should some countries move first when others are not doing their fair share? The fact that there’s disagreement on these topics, however, is just a sign of a healthy democratic debate.
This cannot be said about a fundamental issue at the heart of climate politics: Far too often are highly necessary points about making today’s policy decisions future-proof dismissed as being “ideological”, and categorically rejected. Too often is climate action seen as a bargaining chip in political negotiations when it is, in fact, in our greatest common interest. Diverse groups within politics still showcase a categorical opposition to climate action, which they claim is an ideological issue – at a time when even companies such as Shell and Siemens have acknowledged its importance. It’s wrong and dangerous that silencing the debate about climate solutions and the necessity for action, or treating them as a bargaining chip, is still a workable political strategy for many parties across the industrialized world. In a healthy democratic culture, problems should be acknowledged, the best solutions debated, and then subsequently implemented. It is time that we close the gap between the pressing importance of the climate challenge and its representation and discussion in politics.
When it comes to life-or-death issues such as the climate crisis, it is not words but actions that matter. Every scientist will confirm that inaction is not an option in this case – we have to get our heads out of the sand, and face down this issue. That’s why it’s time to bridge across political divisions and build powerful coalitions that can create the future we want. This requires action on all sides of the political spectrum, and it can only be hoped that this is – finally – realized universally. In the meantime, we can work on what is crucial for a healthy democratic debate: having a good informational basis and getting the facts right. This is the spirit behind the latest addition to the Oxford Climate Society’s portfolio: The Oxford School of Climate Change. A select group of students will get the opportunity to hear about some of the most important issues in the climate debate from leading academics in the field, and there will also be ample opportunity to discuss solutions for the challenges ahead.
Words won’t safeguard our future – actions will. But words can lead to actions, and that’s why it’s crucial that we lead wide-ranging, expedient discussions on how to get into a safe future. The School of Climate Change will be a part of this effort.
When travelling in South-East Asia, you learn to expect the unexpected. But residents, authorities and tourists are beginning to expect stronger natural disasters more frequently, a trend related to climate change. Typhoons are tropical hurricanes common in South East Asia, storms that form over oceans with a temperature of at least 26.5°. Evaporation occurs and winds near the surface bring this warm, moist air towards the centre of the storm, which rises rapidly in its ‘eye’. Greater pressure differences in the upper atmosphere and increased water vapour concentration result in stronger winds and intense rain, the characteristics of a typhoon. Typhoons have varying strengths, which are categorised and responded to differently in each nation.
But how is climate change affecting typhoons and their consequences on society? Rising ocean temperatures associated with climate change provide the storms with more energy, meaning that wind speeds increase and precipitation intensifies. This can generally be associated with greater destruction and risk, problematic in South East Asia particularly in terms of structural preparation, response time and life insurance. Yet the effect of increasing severity of typhoons in this region must be considered with regard to the inequality of wealth across its nations.
I recognised this when travelling in Hong Kong and Vietnam, countries both hit by typhoons during my visit. In Hong Kong, the typhoon was the third in two weeks, and by far the least significant. Hong Kong categorises the typhoon by wind speed, and has associated warning signals; T1, T3, T5, T8, T9 and T10 in order of threat. Typhoon Hato struck Hong Kong on the 23rd August, and although it killed 12 people, these were in different regions of southern China. This can be attributed to the T10 warning being raised for the first time in 5 years. The preparation that this enabled with a foresight of the typhoon’s severity meant that government buildings, offices, schools and transport shut down, reducing the possibility for death.
Comparatively, Vietnams's preparation is unbelievably different. While there was some evacuation of mainland villages, while staying on Cat Ba Island I wasn’t made aware of the imminent Typhoon Doksuri, classified as a ‘severe typhoon’, until its arrival. Boat services were stopped, stranding me on the island for another day. When it made landfall, Doksuri killed 4, cut power across the nation and destroyed many buildings that were without structures designed to withstand the effects of a typhoon. The lack of widespread durability for storms in a nation experiencing them frequently is particularly concerning given their increasing intensities as a result of climate change, as well as the tourism that is growing in popularity in Vietnam.
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