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This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report on the oceans and frozen regions of our planet. Some of the report’s revelations are alarming. What can still be done to mitigate the effects of climate change? We ask AFD climate change specialists.
  • Rising Sea Levels

The situation: Because of global warming, ice is melting faster, which is causing water levels to rise. In their latest report, scientists at the IPCC says that ocean and water levels rose on average by 3.6 millimeters per year between 2005 and 2015—with variations of more or less 30% in some regions. This increase is 2.5 times faster than in the 20th century.

This report also warns of major uncertainties regarding the future of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, and does not rule out a sharp increase in their melting.  “According to scientific models, we are today looking at a rise of 1 meter by the end of the century, but if there is instability in the Antarctic then sea levels could rise, according to some scientists, by 2 meters,” notes Marie-Noëlle Woillez, AFD climate specialist. The results of which would include flooding of coastal areas, salt water infiltrating water tables near the coastlines and population displacement.

Solutions: Apart from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there are no universal solutions: it all depends on the local context. “We can provide support for adaptation projects such as the conservation of ecosystems or protection against coastal erosion,” says Timothée Ourbak, climate change specialist at AFD. 

In 2018, AFD earmarked €1.6 billion for the adaptation of countries vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.

 

  • Acidification, Warming and Loss of Oxygen

The situation: Oceans absorb a significant proportion of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as well as surplus heat resulting from greenhouse gases. This has four major consequences: surface waters are deprived of oxygen and nutrients, and become warmer and more acidic.

The oceans and seas near the poles could become corrosive to some species by the end of the century, threatening many marine organisms and causing them to migrate, if they can. And warmer oceans, with less oxygen and nutrients, obviously means fewer fish”, warns Timothée Ourbak. “On a geological time scale, it is conceivable that ecosystems could adapt to such major upheavals. But on a human scale this will pose huge problems.” 

Solutions: These impacts are occurring in a context where marine species are already stressed by human activities, such as overfishing and plastic pollution.  “The report recommends reducing these pressures, while also establishing nature reserves where marine wildlife can find refuge,” notes Marie-Noëlle Woillez.

In Mauritania, AFD and the French Global Environment Facility (FGEF) have, for example, provided funding of €2.5 million for a project for the conservation and extension of protected marine areas, with an eye to replenishing fish populations.

 

  • Permafrost: No longer permanent 

The situation:  The vast, permanently frozen areas of land in the Arctic regions are known as permafrost. However, with global warming, this land is thawing and releasing greenhouse gases, some of which had been stored for hundreds of years. 

In the most pessimistic scenario considered by the IPCC, 99% of the near-surface permafrost could thaw by 2100. There is currently considerable uncertainty regarding the amounts of carbon that could potentially be released. We are talking here about tens or hundreds of billions of tons. And that's not taking into account the deep permafrost, which is more difficult to analyze”, warns Marie-Noëlle Woillez.

Solutions: Continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to curb the global warming which, with the thawing of the permafrost, could spiral out of control. 

AFD is fully mobilized in this respect: commitment to projects and activities that are 100% compatible with the Paris Agreement on climate, a target of €5 billion in financing per year from 2020, and support for many countries that are revising their climate commitments and defining long-term, low-carbon strategies.

 

  • Weather Events: More extreme, more often

The situation: The report indicates that cyclones are likely to increase in intensity, as will the impacts of El Niño and the warming of sea surface temperatures, causing droughts, floods and tropical storms.

What is exceptional will become commonplace. Major flooding associated with severe coastal storms which currently occur once in a decade, could become annual occurrences by 2060,” says Timothée Ourbak.

The solutions: Support and encourage the construction of cyclone-resilient infrastructure, facilitate property insurance in high-risk areas, improve systems for observing extreme weather phenomena and early warning systems. These are all projects in which AFD is currently involved. “Projects such as these require little investment but can avoid major damage,” says Marie-Noëlle Woillez. 

In other words, do everything possible to prepare, to be better protected before the storm, and to rebuild after it. But above all, do everything possible to avoid the storm.