Part 1: Following the science: 1.5 degrees celsius is a crucial benchmark—a world at stake, a world to gain

By Frank Dexter Brown,
Special to the AFRO

Question and Answer
Durban, Birmingham, Cape Town
Atlanta, Johannesburg, Watts
The earth around. Struggling, fighting
Dying—for what?
A world to gain
Groping, hoping,
Waiting—for what?
A world to gain.
Dreams kicked asunder, why not go under?
There’s a world to gain.
But suppose I don’t want it
Why take it?
To remake it.
—Langston Hughes’ Question and Answer,” published
in Panther and the Lash in 1967

March 10, 2023: For more than a month, the tropical cyclone known as Freddy, raged in the channel between Mozambique and Madagascar, and then into Malawi and Zimbabwe. Sustained winds were recorded as high as 160 miles an hour and maintained more than gale force winds for 37 days, setting records for strength and endurance. Satellite images were taken of the storm as it was first seen forming on February 5 in the eastern Indian Ocean near Australia. Freddy crossed the ocean from east to west (a rare path, recorded only once before), first making landfall in southern Africa on Feb. 21 as it lashed Madagascar and Mozambique, before returning to the channel and then hitting both landmasses, including Malawi and Zimbabwe, a second time two weeks later. The storm finally dissipated some five weeks after formation. In total 894 people were killed (676 in Malawi, 198 in Mozambique, 17 in Madagascar, two in Zimbabwe, and one in Mauritius) and 552 were reported missing. 

March 25, 2023. Ninety-eight percent of the communities in the towns of Rolling Fork and Silver City, Miss., are gone. The area, about 60 miles northeast of the state capital of Jackson (which experienced devastating environmental hardships caused by the contaminated public water system last year), has about 1,800 mostly Black residents. As far as one could see, the area looked as if it had been blanketed with bombs—homes left in rubble, buildings flattened, trees ripped from roots and splintered and cars were strewn about haphazardly like children’s toys. Twenty-five people were killed. Some victims were trapped inside cars, houses and cherished community landmarks– including a Baptist church and community center, all reduced to ruin. The tornado system was said to have had sustained winds as high as 200 miles an hour and spanned 170 miles, while lasting for more than an hour. It was the most powerful and longest lasting tornado system ever recorded in Mississippi.


The pain and suffering witnessed in the aftermath of these two extreme weather events– a world away from each other– was shocking, difficult to see and heartbreaking to hear.  However, unusually powerful wind events– occurring days apart as these two destructive storms did– are only a few of the recent examples of what is happening globally—with greater frequency and severity. 

Most troubling is the fact that these intense storms with deadly consequences can be expected to become more pervasive, according to many of the world’s most esteemed climate scientists. 

Aggressive global action must be immediately taken to address climate change – such as greatly reducing the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. We cannot wait any longer to act, as extreme weather conditions will only increase due to the impact of growing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration.

The scientists are calling for a reduction of carbon emissions by two-thirds by 2035. 

These are the conclusions of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an esteemed group of more than 200 contributing scientists from 64 countries. 

“Humanity is on thin ice—and that ice is melting fast,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement synthesizing the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6)

Both of the intense weather events mentioned above are examples of the ongoing global climate crisis that’s part of a historic climate period on Earth.

As seen in the cases above, this era of dramatic climatic changes is one that’s proving to be disproportionately dangerous for the Earth’s poorest citizens, particularly Black and Brown residents. 

Indeed, African peoples—those living on the continent or are part of the African Diaspora—have proved to be especially vulnerable to the growing climate crisis. Therefore, it is critical that people in our communities evaluate information on the unfolding climate crisis, and develop as best we can, the ability to collectively address and mitigate the circumstances. 

This will require the long-term and short-term planning of elected officials, community organizers and activists, educators, health specialists and financial experts.

The cutting of carbon emissions is requiring significant adjustments in the way that societies operate and therefore is also presenting economic opportunities (including the jobs resulting from the creation of renewable energy product corridors) as new systems are developed. 

For example, the production of more renewably produced products, particularly in energy generation and storage. More sustainable agriculture, and urban gardening; retrofitting of homes and office buildings for energy efficiency; and the reconsideration of the electrical grid and energy distribution are just a few of the changes underway to alter our entire way of life.

However, because of debt trap problems and the global economic crisis, poorer countries, which have a minimal CO2 emissions footprint, are less prepared to be part of this very significant, costly and more sustainable revisioning. 

This new way must be a “just transition” to a world that embraces climate justice and environmental justice policies, many researchers, climate activists and government officials say.

That is why the worldwide call for a just transition is gaining resonance—that is, a transition funded by the world’s wealthiest nations, including leading to changes in international loan policies and debt loads. 

This transition requires the immediate implementation by wealthy states of adaptation and resilience measures for vulnerable poorer nations and communities, to protect against and mitigate the impacts of climate-change influenced extreme weather events. 

Wealthy states, corporations and financial institutions are obligated to respond—the world’s 20 richest countries are responsible for three-fourths of all worldwide CO2 emissions.

Durban, Birmingham, Cape Town

Atlanta, Johannesburg, Watts

The earth around. Struggling, fighting

Dying—for what?

A world to gain. …

Staying below 1.5 degrees celsius of warming: a key to survival

With the August 2021 release of the UN IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), IPCC scientists warned more strongly than in earlier assessment reports that immediate global action to alter highly polluting human behavior and activities was needed to mitigate the causes of the extreme weather events that are increasingly becoming more urgent for all living species on Earth. UN officials said of the scientists, who represent nations worldwide, that they produced a report that serves as a “code red for humanity.” 

Of such disasters the scientists write: “Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and in particular, their attribution to human influence has strengthened since AR5….” 

AR5, released in 2015, helped to set the tone and influence the 2015 Paris COP 21 negotiations. 

In AR6, the scientists concluded that the rise in global average temperatures since the industrial revolution of the 1800s is essentially due to the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests. Such activities have resulted in greenhouse gasses, primarily carbon dioxide and methane, forming a heat trap in the atmosphere. 

In fact, they report the planet has already witnessed an increase of temperatures of approximately 1.1 degrees Celsius (two degrees Fahrenheit) since the pre-industrial age due to human behavior and activities—mainly through the burning of fossil fuels—oil, gas, and coal. 

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” they wrote  about the issue of human behavior and activity responsibility for climate changes that has been a point of debate for years. 

“Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.…Observed increases in well-mixed greenhouse gas concentrations since around 1750 are unequivocally caused by human activities.…Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850.”

One of the IPCC’s most significant findings warns that even if nations immediately begin to sharply cut emissions, total global warming is still likely to rise to around 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre- industrialization levels. 

This fact is troubling, as scientists have for more than a decade predicted that at 1.5 degrees of warming global dangers increase considerably. 

In AR6, they go even further than before by stating that within the next two decades a hotter future above 1.5 degrees Celsius is essentially guaranteed, and the consequences are almost assuredly guaranteed to be deadly. 

The scientists project that within decades some one billion people may suffer through more frequent life-threatening heat waves. Globally, hundreds of millions can be expected to face water shortages because of droughts. 

Many regions will experience widespread flash flooding, oftentimes resulting in deadly landslides due to sudden torrential downpours. 

Coral reefs, which are called the “Amazon of the sea” because of how they sustain an abundance of sea life, will suffer coral bleaching, and die en masse. Similarly, worldwide other ecosystems and habitats and their animal life and plant life can expect devastation, and in many cases, extinction.

Groping, hoping,

Waiting—for what?

A world to gain. …

An Earth in crisis: the most vulnerable, the hardest hit…

Conditions such as these have resulted in the more urgent need for an immediate response. In particular, an “action now” response is critical to the survival of Global South nations and communities of color in the Global North, and all struggling less-wealthy peoples worldwide. 

The burning of coal, oil and gas are warming the planet
and giving way to a future that will be rife with climate
disasters as the planet heats up. (Photo by Chris Leboutillier on Unsplash)

These nations and communities, which have the smallest CO2 footprints worldwide, today are inordinately impacted by weather extremes. This includes the added dangers caused by living disproportionately on the frontline of highly polluting life-threatening industrial production and waste disposal facilities. These communities and groups are the least protected and last targeted for safety or protection measures for adaptation and resiliency policies and financing. 

Wealthy nations therefore, are obligated to respond. Globally climate activists of color have increasingly demanded to be involved in the decision-making. 

Consider the words of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: “I share your frustration,” he said to those struggling, protesting and suffering worldwide, as he urgently called out for greater global activism, even in the face of wealthy nation intransigence. “The most vital resource energy source in the world is people power. That is why it is so important to understand the human rights dimension of climate action.”

Guterres continued: “It will take each and every one of us fighting in the trenches each and every day…we can’t wait for a miracle.”

“We must have just energy transition partnerships to accelerate the phasing out of coal and scaling up renewables,”—in essence, a climate solidarity pact, Guterres said.

He added, “In which all countries make an extra effort to reduce emissions this decade in line with the 1.5 degrees goal. And a pact to mobilize—together with international financial institutions and the private sector—financial and technical support for large emerging economies to accelerate their renewable energy transition.”

These were the ideas leading to last November when the world turned to Africa to see if these actions were to be agreed upon and implemented.

Dreams kicked asunder, why not go under?

There’s a world to gain. …

“We have shown those who have felt neglected that we hear you, we see you…”

It has been barely five months since the historic Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Africa COP 27 (Conference of the Parties 27) ended in late-November 2022. The conference was referenced widely as the first “African COP” — not only because of its location on the African continent, but because of how African nations and those of the African diaspora, especially the Caribbean, and others of the Global South — were celebrated for decades-sought hard-won victories.

At this groundbreaking United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—and one that followed in December a month later to discuss urgently needed protection for threatened biodiversity worldwide—wealthy nations, under heavy pressure from Global South nations, moved from their long-resisted acknowledgement of their responsibility for causing the intensifying climate crisis, to now articulating recognition of their role for the spreading devastation they are causing though their growing CO2 emissions. 

They agreed: they must commit (as noted above) to make the promised commitments to climate financing for “loss and damage” among nations of the Global South; further, they agreed to provide the technology needed in the adaptation and protection of their environments; and promised the financial assistance needed to make them more resilient against the dangers. 

Further, the nations continued to argue for debt cancellation of loans received from the World Bank, and financial institutions tied to the Internal Monetary Fund (IMF). And overall, they pushed for climate justice. Regenerative agriculture, while not completely embraced, also is drawing consideration (as opposed to farming techniques applied by corporate agriculture firms, including using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) seeds. 

All of these agreed upon policies were to lead to what is being called a “just transition” to a more equitable and sustainable world.

“We have literally exhausted all of our efforts here at COP 27 to bring home the climate action commitment our vulnerable people desperately need,” Molwyn Joseph, the environmental minister from Antigua and Barbuda, said in a statement released just after the agreement was announced. 

Joseph, who also is the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of 44 island and low-lying coastal nations, added: “We have shown those who have felt neglected that we hear you, we see you, and we are giving you the respect and care you deserve.” 

He continued, emphasizing that more global work must be forthcoming—especially the wealthy states following through on their financial pledges by making the loss and damage fund “operational” and funds immediately available and accessible. 

“Now we must solidify our ties across territories,” he said, following COP 27. “We must work even harder to hold firm to the 1.5C warming limit, to operationalize the loss and damage fund, and continue to create a world that is safe, fair, and equitable for all.”

Sameh Shoukry, who was the president of COP 27, and also is the foreign minister of Egypt concurred, saying, “I call upon all of you to view these draft decisions not merely as words on paper but as a collective message to the world that we heeded the call of our leaders and of current and future generations to set the right pace and direction for the implementation of the Paris agreement and the achievement of the goals.” 

He then noted: “The world is watching. I call on all of us to rise to the expectations entrusted to us by the global community, and especially by those who are most vulnerable and yet have contributed the least to climate change.”

Consider this potential if promises are met, and programs implemented: communities can be revitalized. Nations rebuilt. Peoples and their ecosystems—lands, forests, and water resources—saved and made more productive. Economies are more prosperous. Millions of new jobs globally can be tied to this activity—all of which should be connected to safer, cleaner, and more sustainable lifestyles.

But suppose I don’t want it

Why take it?

To remake it.

A crucial benchmark for revisioning, an approach thirty years in the making

For more than three decades, dating to the inaugural UN climate meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and the signing of the Rio agreement (see box, “The Rio Declaration”), nations of the Global South—equatorial region nations of black, brown, yellow and red peoples of the so-called developing world—have fought for the world’s wealthiest nations to take responsibility for the Earth’s decline caused by the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and species extinction, and food and water resources placed in jeopardy.

For example, the Rio Declaration established the objectives the world recognized were necessary. But through the intransigence of the wealthy states, these ideas have been ignored.

Currently scientists project that within decades some 1 billion people may suffer through more frequent life-threatening heat waves, and hundreds of millions globally can be expected to face water shortages because of droughts, is there time to move forward after so many wasted years? 

Again, Joseph, the Antiguan minister representing AOSIS, said of the future after achieving the loss and damage agreement: “Our ministers and negotiators have endured sleepless nights and endless days in an intense series of negotiations, determined to secure the establishment of a loss and damage response, keep 1.5 alive, and advance ambition on critical mitigation and adaptation planes. But after the pain comes the progress.”

Immediate progress is certainly what the agenda demands; that is, global action to alter the burning of fossil foods and other highly polluting human behavior and activities is needed now to mitigate what is increasingly becoming more urgent for all living species on the planet. 

“The most vital resource energy source in the world is people power”

As concerned civic leaders and activists worldwide consider the fate of our planet and of all living species, especially the very vulnerable future of the Global South and the world’s poorest citizens, in general, particularly those of small island states, take note of these words of the IPCC scientists:

“Monsoon precipitation is projected to increase in the mid- to long-term at global scale, particularly over South and Southeast Asia, East Asia, and West Africa apart from the far west Sahel. …” 

While the scientists don’t directly comment in AR6 on specific policy prescriptions tied to science, the messages from AR6s’ detailed, fact-based findings are evident: we must act now; immediately. 

The solutions include what global environmental activists demand — “leaving fossil fuels in the ground” or, as they also say, “leave the oil in the soil” — thereby restricting the amount of carbon accumulation that is endangering the planet. 

Further, we must push, advocate, demand—especially those of us living in the United States—that the leading emitting governments, corporations, and industries right now make available to Global South nations, and Global North communities of color (and all Earth’s poor), the financing, technology (and alternative “green” jobs) needed for emergency mitigation adaptation and resiliency efforts. 

Hear again the voice of UN General Secretary Guterres: “I share your frustration,” he said, especially speaking to those living in the Global South as he urgently called out for greater global activism, even in the face of wealthy nation intransigence. “The most vital resource energy source in the world is people power. That is why it is so important to understand the human rights dimension of climate action.”

Guterres continued: “It will take each and every one of us fighting in the trenches each and every day…we can’t wait for a miracle.”

Frank Dexter Brown, a longtime contributor to the AFRO, is founder and executive director of the Baobab Diaspora Visions project, and EarthAfrica Media and News service. Both of the latter media institutions document the dangers of the climate crisis and chronicle how these changes– while impacting all on Earth– particularly affect communities of color.


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