THE United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just released its latest report on global warming. The report, the fifth in the last 23 years, contains findings which are no surprise but which confirm an indisputable trend -- scientists are 95 per cent certain that global warming over the last 60 years is due to human activity.
Even more disturbing is the indication that global warming is taking place at an accelerated pace, certainly faster than anticipated in earlier reports.
Greenhouse gases emitted from burnt fossil fuels have risen to levels which have no precedent in the last 800,000 years. This emission of 50 billion tons per annum is the driver of global warming, which is responsible for the rise in the level of the oceans. The results are evident in the fact that sea surface temperatures are at their highest in the last 1,450 years.
According to the scientists, within 20 years, global warming will leave the Arctic Ocean free of ice during the summer, allowing ships to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Previously this route could only be managed by icebreakers.
The international community has not taken this dire threat seriously and, in Kyoto and Copenhagen, could only agree on voluntary pledges to limit emissions from rising beyond two degrees Centigrade.
They will have another opportunity for strong and binding action in Paris in 2015. Realistically, there is little chance of success in the foreseeable future and hence, global warming will continue.
Scientists calculate that for every degree Fahrenheit of global warming due to carbon pollution, the global average sea level will rise by about 4.2 feet. When multiplied by the current rate of carbon emission, it yields an estimated long-term sea level rise over one foot per decade. This would threaten up to one billion people, especially in low-lying coastal areas and relatively flat islands.
This may not seem like much, but we must think about our children and grandchildren. In addition, as the sea rises and heats up we become prone to stronger weather disturbances such as that which caused large parts of New York to be flooded. This possibility is graphically discussed in the latest issue of National Geographic.
The Caribbean is one of the regions of the globe that is most vulnerable to global warming, sea level rise and weather-related natural disasters. Jamaica has a considerable share of its population living on the coast, which is also the main area for important economic activities, in particular, tourism.
Our two cities -- Kingston and Montego Bay -- and many important towns are on
the sea front. In the case of Kingston, it is protected by a very narrow, very low-lying sand spit known as Palisadoes.
A severe hurricane or mild earthquake could expose a large part of Kingston and Portmore to a tsunami, which could swamp the Norman Manley International Airport or transform it into an isolated offshore island reachable only by sea. In addition, the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay could be submerged.
Against those possibilities, we should not discount the thought of building an international airport at Vernamfield.
It is not too early to think on