WASHINGTON, USA, Monday June 26, 2017 – Acclaimed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking believes that Donald Trump has taken “the most serious and wrong decision on climate change this world has seen”, and top scientists agree, especially with respect to small island states like those in the Caribbean.
Experts say it was already likely that Earth’s temperatures and the world’s seas will keep rising to a point where some island states may not survive the next 100 years.
But they say that if the United States pulls out of the Paris global warming pact and doesn’t follow through on promised cuts in heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, the likelihood increases.
At the beginning of this month, Trump said he’d withdraw the United States from the climate deal, prompting leaders of vulnerable islands to talk about their future with a mixture of hope, resignation and defiance.
“If we really push into action, we can save some (small islands) but we may not be able save all of them,” said Hans-Otto Poertner, a German scientist who chairs the climate impacts study group for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“The chances are even less with the US pulling out of the climate agreement in Paris.”
In some countries, it’s almost too late already: Palau ‘s environment minister F Umiich Sengebau said he has no choice but to cling to hope.
“Right now some of the islands have disappeared,” he said. “And so if we continue this trend our very existence as small islands could very well disappear in many instances.”
The US State Department still maintains that it considers engagement with other counties on climate change important and it will continue, including with small island states.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after Trump pulled out of the agreement that the US has cut its carbon dioxide emissions “dramatically” even before the Paris pact was reached.
Two years ago, when the Paris pact was being negotiated, small island nations successfully campaigned for a stricter but secondary target for limiting global heat-trapping emissions.
In 2009, world leaders adopted a goal to prevent 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming since the industrial era started, saying 2 degrees is a dangerous level of warming.
The islands’ tougher goal would try to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial time.
The world has already warmed about 1 degree Celsius, so the small islands are really trying to prevent another half degree of warming Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit).
When Trump announced he would pull out of the Paris treaty, scientists said that made the 2 degree goal close to unachievable and the 1.5 degree goal even harder to attain.
Promised American pollution cuts were about one-fifth of the pledged global reductions hoped for in the accord.
Even if all the pact’s pledges were fully realized, it wouldn’t stop warming from hitting 2 degrees without even stricter actions in the future, according to computer simulations.
According to Kenrick Leslie, executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre:
“We are pushing the 1.5 (as a goal) but realistically I think we have passed the point that it can be achieved.”
Trump’s Paris pull-out, he said, has “thrown it right out the window.”
Studies have shown that the sea level rise over the past 10 years or so has accelerated compared to previous decades, said University of Colorado sea level expert Steve Nerem.
He estimates a metre of sea level rise by the end of this century and emphasizes it could be worse with ice sheet melts in Greenland and Antarctica.
“Anything over a metre is catastrophic for these small islands,’ Nerem said.
The islands don’t even have to be underwater to become uninhabitable, he indicated, because sea level rise will make them more vulnerable to high tides and storm surges.
Warming over 1.5 degrees is also likely to be devastating for coral reefs, which many islands are dependent on for fishing and tourism.
Besides rising seas that could swamp population centres and infrastructure like airports and seaports all over the Caribbean, the damage to reefs and fishing with increased warming will hurt Caribbean people in the pocketbooks and in their stomachs, several Caribbean climate officials have warned.