Destructive storms, like Cyclone Idai which hit central Mozambique on March 14th, are warning examples of the injustice and urgency of climate change.
The cyclone, named Cyclone Idai, formed on March 4th in the Mozambican channel, and continued its Western direction, reaching as far as Mozambique’s bordering countries Malawi and Zimbabwe. Over 1.5 million people have been affected, and so far an estimated 1000 people have died. The storm most furiously damaged the coastal city of Beira, with floods estimated to reach 6 meters in some areas. Videos and images show the devastation that words cannot describe.
Source: YouTube, Sky News
This cyclone not only brought social and economic impacts, but also ecological ones. Park Gorongosa, a Mozambican national park, was also severely impacted, affecting its plant and wildlife, and in turn its potential tourism for the future as well.
As far, various journalists and scientists, in the Guardian, Wall Street Journal, and BBC, have discussed climate change to be at least somewhat attributable for the severity of the cyclone. Even if Cyclone Idai was not completely a result of increased surface temperatures, there is evidence that storms such as this will increase in intensity as a result of climate change in the future.
Storms like Cyclone Idai are exacerbated by global warming because warmer air can hold more water vapor. Water vapor acts as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, which results in a positive feedback loop, leading to enhanced warming and more moisture retention in the air. As a result, the energy and moisture required to power such storms is higher, making them more powerful.
If this isn’t troubling enough, this part of Africa was already suffering from drought, which increased runoff and worsened impacts to crop fields and food security. With global warming, higher temperatures can result in higher evaporation which can contribute to increased drought, which continues to feed this damaging cycle.
The IPCC provides agreement that southern Africa is expected to experience less overall precipitation in the future, and projects that when it does rain, its intensity is likely to increase, making storms like Cyclone Idai even worse when they occur.
Climate change may not only affect storm intensity and precipitation, but also sea levels. Sea level is expected to rise as a result of thermal expansion and melting of ice on land. All these feedbacks and climate change effects make heavy storms especially problematic for a low-lying and poverty-stricken coastal city such as Beira.
The consequences of Cyclone Idai in particular, were made even more severe by the history of Mozambique. The country has endured colonialism, a revolutionary war, and a civil war, and has an HDI ranking of 180, out of the 189 countries included. Alongside its damaged history, Mozambique’s dense population and lack of protection and adequate warning systems only worsened effects. Cyclone Idai highlights how climate change can affect one of the world’s poorest places.
It’s now even more difficult for Mozambicans to reduce poverty and recover from years of struggled development without food security, housing, and enough money. Worse yet is that the cyclone’s after-math will be felt long after it has hit. For instance, flooding can increase the potential for the spread of water-borne diseases, and it will take years for the hundreds of kilometers of farmland to recuperate.
Locals waiting for rescue on a roof to escape flooding
Source: Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/03/18/photos-cyclone-idai-lays-waste-parts-mozambique-zimbabwe-malawi/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.c72f5fef2faa
What’s worrying is that although countries like Mozambique lack the best infrastructure and funds to combat climate change, they continue to invest and plan for fossil fuel plants in the future. Development projects such as gas extraction in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique, the Thabametsi coal mine in South Africa, and the Lamu coal plant in Kenya, continue to persist. This means that emissions and such intense storms will likely only continue. Ironically, the One Planet Summit was being held in Nairobi, Kenya while Idai hit, and while Kenya still has plans to develop coal mines. Seriously, how more ironic could this timing be?
Despite the great revenue potential of such plans, as a lot of the fossil fuel production will be exported, those currently contributing most to increased atmospheric greenhouse gases are us in developed nations. Mozambique currently emits about 0.3 tons of CO2 per capita, compared to 16.5 tons in the US and 9.9 tons in the Netherlands.
Even though emissions are comparatively higher in developed countries, efforts to help less developing countries in the face of climate change were promised in the Paris Agreement. Article 8 focused on addressing and minimizing the loss and damage from climate change effects and extreme weather events, and articles 9, 10, and 11 specified that developed countries would help provide finance and assistance to developing countries with their vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Efforts seemed promising via the establishment of the Paris Agreement, but Cyclone Idai highlights the continued injustice of global warming effects.
Although we have somewhat met the Paris Agreement targets, like with the development of the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries, is this enough? Is it fair to continue emitting such high levels of CO2 when countries on the other side of the world may be even more damaged and unprepared for the effects? If a similar cyclone hit a coastal city of a developed country, effects would expectedly be much less severe. Is this fair?
Watching these videos, hearing these stories, and seeing these photos, really hit home for me, as I spent a total of about 10 years living in Mozambique. The destruction and suffering from climate change are already here. There can be no more delays nor ignorance with tackling it. Cyclone Idai is just another warning sign. Particularly in struggled developing countries, it’s evermore necessary for us in developed countries to help – and help now.