Climate change is an unavoidable issue for all of us

A man and his dog, both wearing masks, take walk on a hazy day in Beijing. (Liu Chang / Legal Evening / Reuters)
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A man is out walking his dog. Normally, this would make for a cute photo. But since both the man and the dog are wearing face masks, it is, in fact, a blunt reminder of what can happen to all of us if we don’t get our act together and tackle pollution and climate change.

This image was taken in Beijing last year. Shockingly, air pollution is even worse this year. A blanket of smog has shrouded Beijing for days, triggering the capital’s first ever “red alert” pollution status. A study concluded that the air in Beijing is so polluted that breathing it does as much damage to the lungs as smoking 40 cigarettes a day.

It is not hard to imagine that this is where we are heading: a future with face masks. At the same time, I am not sure how effective the masks are, given that pollution also seeps through the pores and the eyes.

There have been enough sci-fi films and novels painting a dark future of an Earth ruined and made barren by pollution and greed, its animals and vegetation extinct.The Beijing crisis comes at a time when the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, is being held in Paris, and climate envoys from 195 nations are trying to reach a new deal on climate change. If successful, it would rein in greenhouse gases for the first time and limit global warming to less than 2.0°C above pre-industrial revolution levels.

The UN talks have been billed as the “last chance” to avert the worst consequences of global warming: deadly drought, floods and storms, and rising seas that will engulf islands and densely populated coastlines.

According to the UN, the years of 2014 and 2015 were the hottest on record, with the Pacific Ocean already warming up to an unprecedented degree. 2016 is bracing itself for another super El Nino (a warming of the central and eastern areas of the Pacific Ocean that occurs, on average, every two to seven years).

“Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide,” said Pope Francis, who has been a vocal advocate for the environment.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon reminded the officials of how serious their decision is: “The clock is ticking toward climate catastrophe. The world is expecting more from you than half-measures and incremental approaches. It is calling for a transformative agreement. Paris must put the world on track for long-term peace, stability and prosperity.”

The UAE Government has been looking ahead into renewable energy and green alternatives for years. There is continuing research from Abu Dhabi’s Masdar, a renewable energy company, and Dubai is investing billions of dollars in clean energy as part of a strategy that could see solar panels on the roof of all buildings in the city by 2030.Last month, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, launched the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050, which aims to make the emirate a global centre of green energy and economy.

The environment in the Middle East has been neglected for decades, largely because of war. The aftermath of conflicts like the First Gulf War, for example, are still felt by people on many levels, including health issues like cancer and respiratory problems from all the weapons used in battles.

In southern Lebanon, radiation levels remain high as a leftover from various weapons used in the 2006 war. Everything we put into our environment comes back to us one way or another.

As we celebrate the cooler temperature, we should feel grateful that all we have to worry about is what we will wear and perhaps, if it is raining, which areas to avoid as they become flooded. Let us make sure it stays that way, and everyone does their part in keeping this country clean and beautiful.

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @arabianmau