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Sierra Leone News: Climate change: An “existential threat” to humanity – UN chief warns global summit

As the United Nations meets on a major climate summit this week, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, said that none of the world’s challenges loom as large as climate change, reiterating his belief that global warming poses an “existential threat” to humanity.
Both leadership and innovation are essential for climate action, the UN Chief said in his keynote address to the global gathering, known as the R20 Austrian World Summit – a long-term initiative to help regions, States and cities implement the Sustainable Development Goals and meet the Paris Agreement targets.
In a statement issued by the UN, Guterres said, “We must use all our resources to build a sense of urgency”, to raise ambition, while keeping temperature rises in the years ahead, as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible.
He said there was reason to hope, declaring that “the world is seeing a groundswell of climate action”, citing examples, including Morocco’s building of a solar farm “the size of Paris, that will power over a million homes by 2020” and China’s achievement in already passing it’s 2020 goal of producing 105 gigawatts of solar power capacity.
“We must build on this,” the UN chief emphasized, calling renewable energy – which already produces a fifth of the world’s electricity – power that also delivers significant health benefits.
Financing to accelerate climate action is necessary if we are to bend the emissions curve, said Secretary-General, António Guterres. “Investments in clean, green infrastructure need to be scaled up globally,” he explained. “For that, we need leadership from the finance and investment community and by local, regional and national governments who will decide on major infrastructure plans over the coming years.”
The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) Index ranks Sierra Leone as the 24th most vulnerable and 46th least ready to adapt to climate change, of the countries it covered for 2015.
According to the Sierra Leone Climate Action report 2016 by Concern, it stated that two of the country’s primary food sources – rice and fish – are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts.
The country has rich soils, good rainfall and abundant water resources, yet remains a net food importer. Only 12% of arable land is cultivated – often using low productivity techniques.
Rice, accounting for the largest share of agricultural GDP and 42% of the average person’s caloric intake, is highly sensitive to increased humidity and rainfall intensity and is vulnerable to pests that thrive in higher temperatures.
Fish account for more than 75% of animal protein intake, and are vulnerable to rising temperatures, which alter nutrient dynamics and water quality in inland fish farms and the Atlantic Ocean the climate-sensitive agriculture sector provides livelihoods for 75% of the population and contributes more than 50% of GDP.
Sierra Leone has extensive natural resources, but these are under pressure from population growth, dependence on biomass for energy needs, water pollution, and environmentally unsound mining activities, leading to high rates of deforestation, increased rates of soil erosion, and occurrence of landslides.
High dependence on agriculture and natural resources, coupled with high rates of poverty, unemployment and environmental degradation, leave Sierra Leone vulnerable to climate change impacts.
Guterres encouraged private sector leaders attending the UN General Assembly-backed summit in the Austrian capital, to announce new financing for clean energy projects.
While the 30-member independent International Energy Agency estimates that 2017 investments in renewable electricity amounted to $242 billion USD, said the UN chief, that was still far less than the funds invested in new fossil fuel development. Billions of dollars more needs to be invested in renewables if we are to see a “full-scale transition to clean energy” by 2020, said Guterres.
Moreover, some 75% of the infrastructure needed by 2050 has still not been built.
“Mobilizing and equipping local governments with the capacity and financing to accelerate climate action is necessary if we are to bend the emissions curve,” he maintained.
Noting that climate change continues to move faster than climate action, Guterres quoted the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change saying, “The more we disrupt our climate, the more we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.”
“But,” he added, “it does not have to be that way,” pointing to solar, wind and cutting-edge technologies, such as electric vehicles or energy from algae in the ocean, which promises a new era of clean air. The World Health Organization reports that more than 80% of people living in urban areas are exposed to poor-quality air that is damaging human health.
By Zainab Iyamide Joaque
Wednesday May 16, 2018.

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