The Plague of our Age: Global Climate Change

Prof. Dr. Mehmet Emin Birpınar
Republic of Türkiye, Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change

Thanks to the technological advancements experienced today, we can find information about celestial bodies billions of light years away. This way we know there is no similar world that can host humans. However, we do not fully appreciate our world’s uniqueness. Since the industrial revolution, we have poorly used the blessings of the world. In a way, we became a society that produces as much as it consumes. Especially in the last fifty years, there has been a three-fold increase in processing and use of resources and energy, and food production. However, the population growth only doubled during this period. These statistics indicate that individual consumption has increased.

Individual consumption differs within regions, countries, and even within the country’s provinces. According to recent statistics, advanced countries have an ecological footprint of 27 metric tons per capita. In low-income countries, this value is only two metric tons. This data indicates unbalanced consumption and pollution levels. Every manufacturing and production causes waste. This increased rate of production, consumption, and waste chain is the cause of more problems such as climate change.

Climate change acts like a plague. Throughout history, the climate changed by cooling down and warming up. However, this natural process occurs in 100-150 thousand years. Today we are experiencing these changes in a short period of 150-200 years. The greenhouse effect is caused by fossil fuels, deforestation, and land degradation which increases the concentration of already existing gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. This changed the global temperatures to 1,2 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial era. 

The world’s atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere act as living organisms. Climate change disrupts the harmony between these interreacting systems and causes damages that are difficult to repair.

Advanced countries such as the US, Canada, and Germany are helpless against the severity and effects of climate change which are increasing each day. Last summer a flash flood in Western Europe resulted in the displacement of ten thousand people and the loss of thousands. Canada faced heat waves that affected daily lives. Massive forest fires, that were important in tackling climate change, occurred in California and Siberia. Africa faced drought. All of these disasters are far beyond simple weather events.

It is a painful fact that these situations have consequences that affect food production, yield, and supply. As a result, statistics from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization display that food prices in the last six months have increased up to 50% on a global basis. These circumstances will cause food and water supply security issues and massive security problems such as immigration waves.

According to the World Food Programme, Madagascar, the island located east of Africa and west of the Indian Ocean, has been dealing with drought for the past four years. Drought is a factor in climate change. It is stated that this threat poses a serious risk to the thirty million locals that will be forced to migrate in the face of the threat. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) assessed that the melting of glaciers and the warming in the water, accelerating sea level due to expansion, threatens the existence of small islands such as; Tuvalu, Kiribati, Maldives, and the Marshall Islands.

This indicates that the situation will cause loss of cultures and the emergence of massive immigration waves. It seems inevitable that the world, which could not be united during the COVID-19 pandemic, will have difficulties finding a solution to this new threat.

During the NATO Summit in 2021, climate change was discussed comprehensively for the first time. The Summit called for strengthening actions against food, water, and energy supply security which will trigger migration waves. This depicts that climate change is an issue regarding a country’s development and national security.

Climate change cause displacement in humans and other living things. Changing weather conditions, especially hot temperatures, led to the creation of new habitats for creatures. An example can be given from the Mediterranean; alien species such as lion and puffer fish consider the Mediterranean as their new environment. There is no doubt that such invasive species will create serious pressure on the balance and population of some species in the food chain. Therefore, this multifaceted issue will cause problems in people’s job opportunities regarding maritime activities and the supply of seafood.

Another event related to climate change is heat waves. We know by experience that heat causes thousands of deaths and destroys our forest biodiversity, reduces work efficiency, and welcomes many diseases. The forests that provide oxygen to our world are facing such great destruction that forests in many regions have become a carbon source. 

Türkiye is Located in a Heavily Affected Region  

Geographically, Türkiye will be heavily affected by climate change. 2021 was a year in which the whole country faced frequent natural disasters caused by climate change. The mucilage blockading the Sea of ​​Marmara, the forest fires that hit our southern coasts entered our records as “the biggest in our history”, the devastating floods in the Black Sea, and the droughts in the central and eastern parts of the country have been engraved in our memories as events triggered by climate change. However, none of these disasters were purely ecological or environmental problems.

The mucilage that hit the Marmara Sea interrupted fishermen’s work for months and interrupted sea voyages in the region. Drought affected food production, hurting supply chains and causing abnormal increases in food prices. Floods caused great destruction in the region, hitting residents, businesses, agricultural areas, and infrastructure. 

As we have seen in all these disasters, climate change is more than just an environmental problem, it is a development problem that creates a domino effect on many issues such as health, transportation, production, economy, and food.

On the other hand, disasters caused by climate change especially floods and overflows led to great damage almost all around the world. For example, the floods destroyed Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland Palatinate and New York, a tornado almost devastated the region of Kentucky in the US, and the city of Louisiana surrendered to Hurricane Ida only fifteen years after Katrina in 2005. Louisiana experienced four or more major hurricanes for the second time, and most of the infrastructure and superstructures were destroyed. Flood disasters in Türkiye, especially in the Black Sea Region, destroyed the residential areas.

Thus, in addition to battling climate change, adaptation to changing conditions is also required. Our cities manufacturing products of the last two centuries are no longer adequate in today’s conditions and they should be reconsidered on the axis of climate change. In other words, considering climate change as a parameter in planning, it is necessary to develop climate-resilient cities.

The Solution is Green

Undoubtedly, these negative outcomes that have been mentioned are the works of humans. The thought of a more comfortable life has transformed humans into beings that consume, use resources recklessly and, instead of complying with the existing order, disrupt it for their benefit.  We process a year of natural resources offered by our world so fast. In fact, we consume so much that our world needs at least twenty months to compensate for this consumption. In other words, humans are exceeding our world’s self-renewal capacity for resources. This means we are stealing from the inheritance of the next generation by consuming the resources for this year and the next year. Unless we say “Stop!” to this consumption, we will drive towards mass extinction. Therefore, humans hold the position of both the problem and solution. 

All things considered, this has shown us that people need to undergo a multifaceted transformation from their consumption habits to their travel and business models. Therefore, transformation is key!

The world is transforming. Türkiye has begun this transformation. We were party to the Paris Agreement which aimed for a +1,5 degrees Celsius increase compared to the global temperature pre-industrial period. As a party to this agreement and the goal of becoming a “net zero emissions and a carbon neutral country in 2053”, set by our President, which proves the need for green transformation from industry to tourism, and from energy to transportation.

Under the leadership of the esteemed Emine Erdoğan, we have set an example for the world with our waste preventive projects: The zero waste movement, environment-friendly bicycle transportation activities, our new electric vehicle TOGG, transition to domestic and renewable energy, cleaner industrial production, environmental label applications in services and products, rainwater harvest, solar panel applications on rooftops, energy efficiency, insulation campaign in buildings, and many more projects are a part of the green transformation.

Applications that come to life within the framework of green transformation all while preventing the formation of harmful emissions for the climate also contribute to cleaner air. This way, it will contribute to both welfare and financial aspects by preventing health problems caused by air pollution. Domestic applications will reduce foreign dependency by preventing emissions due to imported products and services. These applications will contribute to nature.  

The green transformation will not only increase welfare with a healthy environment and clean air, but it will open the door for new job opportunities. Charging stations for electrification in transportation, longer-lasting battery technologies, energy storage, increased use of bicycles and electric scooters, and widespread use of environmentally friendly product markets, new employment potential in numerous business branches will contribute to the welfare of our people.

We need an effective roadmap for all this. In the upcoming months, we are going to organize a climate council that will determine a plan with the participation of public businesses, education academia, financers, and non-governmental organizations. The new roadmap, which is based on the outcomes of the council, will be legalized with the discretion of our national assembly, to create a comprehensive climate law. Together, we will build a carbon-free Türkiye for our people, blue seas, green forests, and thousands of plants and animals they shelter. 

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