Environment & Climate Change Policy Analysis

Cyclone Idai: A Reminder that Climate Change is Already on our Doorstep

In the wake of devastating Cyclone Idai sweeping across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, the issue of climate change is again being brought front and centre, specifically for those on the African continent.

Since its landfall on March 15, Cyclone Idai is said to be “the deadliest tropical cyclone to hit (Southern) Africa” and has left 1.5 million people affected in its wake.

In Mozambique alone, more than half a million people have been affected in the country, and at least 110,000 have sought refuge in camps. The affected areas are still under intense flooding, which is speculated not to clear anytime soon due to continuous rains. Along with a tremendous loss of human life and property, there will also likely be large implications for wildlife and habitat, which have not been reported on as of yet.

Cyclone Idai is not the only weather-related tumultuous event that has taken place in the last month, either. In Franz Josef township, New Zealand, a bridge was washed away in a heavy storm, while major floods cropping up in Iran have left 19 people dead and more than 90 injured. This comes after the country had been dealing with decades of drought.

Other cases have also been reported in Australia, Chile, and Northern California, with other minor disruptions in Israel and Jordan occurring as well. All over our world, the effects of global warming and rising sea levels continue to grow more prevalent, making it harder for humans to predict ongoing weather changes, which in turn limits the ways humans can react in the aftermath.

How Policy Impacts, and is Impacted by, Climate Change

As the world’s economies continue to globalize, the US, India and China continue to drive of global uptick in carbon emissions. Corinne Le Quéré from the Global Carbon Budget 2018 put it that, “the growing global demand for energy is outpacing decarbonization,” which needs to change.

Countries have also been called to revise their war practices for environmental reasons, since 20% of all environmental degradation that takes place around the world is due to military related activities. The environmental costs from conflict include: nuclear bombing and testing, the use of depleted uranium and other toxic chemicals, as well as landmines and unexploded ordnance lingering in conflict zones long after a war has ended. The Syrian war and Saudi offensive military strikes in Yemen are part of a picture that explains how war immensely affects the environment.

In 2016, the UN reported that, “the degree of warming during the past four years has been exceptional, both on land and in the ocean.”

This year, 2019, has not be any different. Cities like New Delhi continue to register high pollution cases of ‘toxic smog’ due to deteriorating air quality, and other landmark study warnings have come to warn that continuous emissions already threaten to melt two-thirds of Himalayan glaciers, and could “trigger more extreme” weather catastrophes.

Damage done in Mozambique by Cyclone Idai

There is some talk of sustainable redevelopment, where post-disaster construction in damaged areas should be the focus, and should be how we mitigate the effects of climate change. That is, some argue that “reconstruction should enshrine the principle of resilience, with roads raised high enough to stay in dry in floods and houses made robust enough to resist cyclone-strength winds.” As the effects of climate change continue to worsen however, some locations or cities will be left enclosed in disaster zones, with less or no ways for escape.

This is already a real issue. For instance, following Cyclone Idai, Dr. Fitchett advises that:

“When a storm like this comes along, the potential for devastation is infinitely higher. A city like Beria (in Mozambique) is at much higher risk, because not only have you many people there, it’s also so much more difficult for them to get out.”

Dr Jennifer Fitchett from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa

The issue of gender and age is also a critical one when it comes to climate change. Women and youth are not only disproportionately immediate victims depending on region, but they are also alienated in the climate decision making processes. This proves one of the reasons why some millennials all over the world are joining climate strikes today.

These school climate strikers argue that there is no point to acquiring an education in a world where there will be no future. Inspired by Greta Thunberg and her moving speech calling for fear, action and aggressive action on climate change, many have taken after her taken after her argument that they have “been ignored as a generation” and that since they don’t have voting rights, protest is the only way to make their voices heard.

This has produced some controversies on whether climate protests will really have an impact. What is true though is that this has incited national debates on climate sensitivity and has promoted a general awareness. That being said, many politicians also cynically use the issue of climate change as a talking point without dedicating policy to the issue, in an attempt to win over the next generation of voters. In many situations, politicians show a public willingness to combat climate change, without actually wanting to invest heavily in renewable energy or abandon fossil fuels altogether.

“I’m striking from school to protest inaction on climate change – you should too” via Greta Thunberg in The Guardian

The case of the The Green New Deal is one example which has been described as being “technologically possible,” although the political prospects of that plan are another question at the moment. The political obstacles the GND faces are likely because the plan involves many other areas of development other than transitioning to clean energy, like addressing societal concerns such as poverty, income inequality and racial discrimination, which are already hot-button political issues within the US.

What’s Next?

The question of importance that everyone needs to be asking should be: how bad is it right now, how bad is it going to get, and can we fix it? In the words of UN’s Chief Guterres, “the World is losing the race against climate change, and according to him, political will is needed to make governments truly understand that “this is the most important priority of our times.”

As long as countries continue to not engage every relevant stakeholder in the climate change mitigation process, natural catastrophes like Cyclone Idai will only continue to remind us of how urgently we should have been transitioning our economies for a sustainable future.

By Ibrahim Bahati

Ibrahim Bahati is a MasterCard Scholar at The American University of Beirut studying an Msc in Rural Community Development. Ibrahim is also a recent Global People's Summit Fellow (2018).

1 reply on “Cyclone Idai: A Reminder that Climate Change is Already on our Doorstep”

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