Over the last several months, extreme heatwaves in Northern Africa, the Middle East, Southern Europe, and the United States have captured headlines, closed popular tourist destinations like the Acropolis, and resulted in scores of deaths in the impacted regions.
Deemed ‘unprecedented’ by many news outlets, these severe heatwaves are expected to become increasingly common.
But record-breaking heat was not the only extreme event this summer. As wildfires ravaged Canada (reaching as far north as the Northwest Territories), Greece, and the Hawaiian island of Maui, and flooding inundated parts of India and North America, the looming threat of climate change has become impossible to ignore.
A New Normal
As global surface temperatures rise, breaking world records, scientists predict that these extremes are here to stay, and will increase in frequency as the effects of climate change ramp up in severity. Perhaps even more troubling, heatwaves over the last year in Antarctica have caused sea ice levels to reach record-breaking lows. These drastic changes have occurred sooner than scientists predicted. Last autumn, temperatures in Antarctica were at times 40 C above average, which should have been a clarion call for climate action.
Perhaps the latest record will instead provide that impetus: July 2023 was the hottest month ever recorded.
A Human Rights Crisis
Warming temperatures and extreme events will have a direct impact on the world’s most vulnerable communities and individuals: namely women and children, who, according to the United Nations (UN), make up around 80% of those displaced by climate change.
And as prolonged droughts render places uninhabitable, the number of climate refugees will only increase. Which brings up another pertinent point: when refugees flee, they are at greater risk of violence. Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said last year that ‘the risk of sexual violence is a tragic reality of [women’s] lives as migrants or refugees.’
Climate change is as much a human rights crisis as it is an environmental one. And every conflict will be exacerbated by its effects. Taking action is no longer a way to get ahead of the curve, and meet the board’s ESG targets. It is the bare minimum to ensure survival of the planet and its inhabitants.
The Economic Effects Of Climate Change
In addition to the human casualties, threats to the economic livelihood of countries and regions are also increasing. The New York Times reported that, in a world that warms by four degrees Celsius, tourism on the Greek Ionian Islands could drop by 9% (Conversely, tourism in countries like Wales could increase by over 15%).
Thus, governmental organizations and companies should prepare for this future and seek to decarbonize their supply chain and operations. They should implement sustainable measures in order to adapt to this rapidly changing landscape, and seek to understand how they can contribute to reduced emissions.
Mitigation And Adaptation
At this point, climate change is inevitable to some degree; we are currently in the midst of it. However, mitigation and adaptation are possible, and must be prioritized if we are to limit the effects.
Government and industry alike should adopt energy-efficient and sustainable measures, fulfilling their duty to people and the planet. New regulations and business models need to recognize that the environment cannot be ignored, placing it at the heart of the decision-making process.