Climate change resurgence

Tuesday, 19 September 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

After Irma and Harvey swept through Florida and parts of the Caribbean they left behind damage that is expected to exceed $ 150 billion, according to Moody’s Analytics, on par with the cost of Hurricane Katrina. Tragic as the cause is, the two cyclones have triggered new global discourse on the impact of climate change and the need for greater studies on the link between greenhouse gases and extreme weather phenomena. 

Perhaps the strongest sign of this is senior Trump administration officials on Sunday signalled a further softening of America’s resolve to leave the Paris climate accord amid signs that the issue will be discussed at the United Nations general assembly in New York this week.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser HR McMaster both indicated that the US was open to negotiations on staying in the landmark international agreement to limit mankind’s role in global warming.

Donald Trump announced the withdrawal from the deal in June, leaving the US with only Syria and Nicaragua for company outside the global agreement. A US withdrawal from a deal made under the Obama administration was a Trump campaign pledge. The rules of the pact do not, however, allow the US to physically pull out until 2020.

However, the softening of stance has come with a caveat. On Saturday the White House denied reports that it planned to remain in the agreement, saying its position on leaving was unchanged and that it would only stay in if it got more “favourable” terms.

Although Tillerson and McMaster reiterated that the US wants a better deal, their willingness to talk about potential discussions on remaining in the accord was in striking contrast to the hostile tone taken by Trump on the issue and America’s previous position: that it planned to leave first and negotiate later.

The apparent switch to diplomacy from such prominent White House officials could signal that Trump is retreating from his hardline course on climate change, which he famously called “a hoax”. This has provided a slight amount of relief for climate change advocates and signals the possibility for the world to return to one policy platform, though the US could continue to play hardball. Other institutions in the US, including the Environmental Protection Agency, have steadfastly denied a link between extreme weather and climate change.

Other countries including Sri Lanka are also seeing increasing extreme weather conditions, sometimes at the same time. Droughts and floods are becoming normal and Sri Lanka has seen plenty of both. Currently it is enduring the worst drought in 40 years.  

The reality is that there is almost certainly a connection between a warming planet and the growing severity of storms. The only question is to what degree. Climate change doesn’t create hurricanes, but scientists largely agree it makes them worse. Sea levels are rising, and this increases storm-related flood damage in coastal cities.

The planet has a problem. It is time to end the denial and deception. The circumstances cry out for more study and attention, not less.