THE decade past had begun with predictions of an impending climate change catastrophe, and it has ended with the reality of not paying closer attention to those warnings. Apocalyptic scenarios had been imagined by evidence-backed scientists — and not doomsday merchants — who foretold that the extreme weather patterns would only worsen in the coming years, as global temperatures kept increasing and sea levels continued to rise. Ten years ago, extreme heatwaves were documented in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Russia; a drought gripped the Amazon River basin; and heavy snowstorms swept across North America. In Pakistan, powerful floods caused by heavy rainfall led to over 2,000 deaths, while millions of others were displaced. They were forced into becoming climate change refugees, as their homes and livelihoods were swept away by the waters. Now, as we enter the new decade, rising global temperatures have broken all previous records, with many countries recording extreme weather patterns. In 2019, hurricanes struck the island of Puerto Rico; Europe suffered two deadly heatwaves; and cyclones devastated the Bahamas and Japan. Meanwhile, thousands of fires gripped the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and bordering Bolivia in August. And ferocious bush fires first sparked in November continue to rage in Australia.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that climate change has been the burning issue of the previous decade, at a time of other great social and political upheaval. In September 2019, millions of people from 150 countries participated in the Climate Strike. But despite all the talk and the meetings, and despite increasing awareness and activism around the issue, it does not seem like the change we need is here yet. It is time to reimagine our global economies, because the current systems for creating wealth are simply not sustainable. Right now, as wildfires sweep through some parts of the world, other areas are suffering from extreme cold. In just a few days, Bangladesh has witnessed over 50 deaths this winter. In Pakistan, a cold wave is sweeping through the country, particularly hitting hard the northern areas, with the prime minister directing his party’s governments in KP and Punjab to provide temporary shelter to the homeless. As we welcome the new year, the world’s leaders and decision-makers must put climate at the forefront of their agendas. May 2020 be the year of decisive action, and not merely words.
Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2020