El Niño shows the importance of global climate action

The latest El Niño affected 1,5 million Mozambicans. The fact that a relatively small rise in temperature in the Pacific Ocean is causing a shortage of food on the other side of the globe should be an eye-opener for politicians. Climate change must be curtailed and the only way is joint global action, writes Anabela Lemos, director of the Africa Groups' partner organization Justiça Ambiental in Mozambique.

The global climate system is complex, but as with all complex systems, it becomes easier to understand the whole if you look at the different parts of the system separately. The areas affected by droughts, hurricanes and floods, and how severe and how often they are affected, tell a great deal about what is happening to our climate. But a weather phenomenon like El Niño also shows how the climate system is connected to other societal developments.

El Niño is the warming of the temperature around the equator in the Pacific Ocean that leads to extreme weather conditions in many places. This phenomenon usually occurs at intervals of two to seven years, and every twenty years El Niño tends to be much stronger than normal. In any case, this is what the pattern has looked like before. Recent studies, however, show that climate change has led to these "super-El Niños" occurring every ten years. The three largest have occurred since the 1980s.

The whole world is affected

The rise in temperature in the Pacific Ocean is creating a chain reaction that is affecting the whole world. El Niño is causing floods in South America, hurricane season changes in the North Pacific, fires in tropical Southeast Asia and droughts in southern Africa, just to name a few examples. Here in Mozambique, it is the drought that is affecting us. At every "super-El Niño", the drought has caused crop failure and food shortages. The latest drought affected more than 1,5 million Mozambicans. In addition, the recurring drought periods have meant that access to local and traditional seed banks has decreased.

At the same time as Mozambique is suffering from the effects of El Niño, the armed conflicts between the ruling party and the main opposition party are increasing; the economy is stagnating; major corruption scandals are popping up everywhere and mega-projects that from the beginning promised development mean that small-scale farmers are forced to move to make room for foreign investors. That this is happening at the same time is not a coincidence because Mozambique's economy is still strongly linked to the land - or the assets that lie beneath it - and climate change has its strongest negative impact on this land on which we are so dependent.

Researchers' horror stories can become reality

It should be an eye-opener that just over two degrees increase in the Pacific Ocean's average sea temperature has such drastic consequences across the globe. This clearly shows the importance of limiting the increase in the world average temperature to 1,5 degrees - something that is certainly mentioned in the climate agreement adopted in Paris in 2015, but without saying anything about how or when it will happen. In fact, an increase of 1,5 degrees is also an unacceptable risk. Absolute breaking points, so-called "tipping points", risk being passed over and affecting billions of people.

The results of measures to limit climate change so far are not at all in line with global promises and commitments. Once again, the poorest and most vulnerable will be worst affected. As one of the Friends of the Earth's climate coordinator put it: "Just signing the Paris Agreement without any substance in terms of implementation and level of ambition is irresponsible and insufficient."

If an increase in temperature in the Pacific Ocean by just over two degrees can have these effects, it is frightening to imagine what an increase in the global average temperature can do to our world. The researchers' warnings are similar to horror stories. The problem is that the more time passes, the greater the risk that these warnings will become a reality. Unfortunately, scientists can be right in their assumptions about what can happen to our climate in the worst case.

It's about will - not resources

But before I scare you away with all the bad news, you must let me mention the good news: there are solutions. A recent study from Friends of the Earth shows that the wealth owned by the earth's 53 richest people is sufficient to power the whole of Africa with clean, renewable energy. Most of the alternative renewable energy sources are cheaper than conventional fossil fuel sources. Reducing emissions is a matter of political will.

Our planet is a closed system and until now we have only interacted with this system in our national bubbles. The only way out of the climate mess is joint global action. Simply put: we need SOLIDARITY.

Anabela Lemos

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