Grim warning sounded on climate change

A comprehensive new study of the effects of climate change has found “undeniable” evidence that the earth is warming, and its effects on our oceans appears far worse than first acknowledged.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report, which used 303 scientists from 48 countries to examine 10 different indicators, points to “unmistakable” evidence that we are in the grips of catastrophic climate change.

But the extent of damage done to ocean life has now been made clear: another study published in US journal Nature found that 40 percent of the world’s plankton has died off since the 1950s as a result of being unable to adjust to warming seas, a result of man-made greenhouse gases.

Phytoplanktons are tiny plants that suck up much of the world’s carbon dioxide and emit an estimated 50 percent of our oxygen. Their disappearance is what scientists describe as one of the compound factors that will tip the balance between the world being habitable and uninhabitable.

“Each indicator is changing as we would expect if the world truly were warming,” Peter Thorne, of the US-based Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, told Reuters. “Not a single analysis disagrees that the global climate is changing. The bottom line conclusion that the world’s been warming is simply undeniable.”

Changes to global temperatures will make Burma’s lowland delta region particularly vulnerable to flooding and the effects of rising sea levels. Cyclone Nargis in 2008 was a potent example of how heightened extreme weather conditions can impact on a coastal population.

The wider ramifications for Burma are worrying, given the country relies on agriculture and exports of rice to keep its economy afloat. The cyclone destroyed 1.75 million hectares of farmland, or 30 percent of the wet season rice area for Burma. Ironically it is those who are most vulnerable in Burma who have contributed least to the problem.

Drought in central Burma this year is a forewarning of what might come; extended dry seasons may lead to desertification as temperatures hit unprecedented highs and rainfall declines. This will lead to many areas of the country becoming virtually uninhabitable.

Neighbouring China and India have also been victim to severe droughts in recent months. As a result China has dammed sections of the Mekong river in an attempt to contain the water for use on Chinese soil. But the Mekong is another vital regional waterway that cuts through China, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and provides water for Thailand and Vietnam’s huge rice output.

When a life source such as the Mekong dries up, these nations they will simply stop exporting key commodities such as rice, as India, now a net importer of food, recently did to preserve food security. India’s GDP growth looks set to hit 8.5 percent this year, and consumption of foodstuffs, such as chicken, is on a sharp rise, at times surging by 200 percent.

The result is that inter-country tensions, such as those seen when the Mekong this year hit its lowest level in 50 years, will likely rise over what economists demurely call ‘soft commodities’, primarily water and food. Social unrest and climate-related poverty on a massive scale may well follow, primarily in those countries located between the two tropics. This became apparent in 2007 when global commodity prices soared.

Tropical countries without the capacity or infrastructure to work around such challenges will suffer the most. Burma then may become a natural disaster zone.

A recently leaked World Bank report will further fan the flames, as evidence emerges of countries buying up vast tracts of land in fertile nations to feed growing, increasingly protein-hungry populations. This practice will no doubt exacerbate food insecurity in the poorest countries – regionally Cambodia was pinpointed as a nation suffering such acquisitions.

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