Perhaps more than the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the admission by US President Donald Trump that climate change might pose problems could be damaging, was the most worrying.

True, the IPCC report did say that climate change may have already passed the tipping point, and might already be irreversible, but President Trump’s statement came from someone who had dismissed all talk of climate change as merely a Chinese conspiracy to stop the USA from being great again. It seemed that his previous denial that there was a problem might well have been shaken by the latest report. The report predicts that the world will not be able to restrict the increase in global temperature to 1˚C, as envisaged by the Paris Accord, but will probably have to deal with an increase of 2˚C, which could rise to 3˚C by the end of the century.

One major reason for climate change in the shape of a heating world is that mankind has loaded the planet’s atmosphere with greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, beyond the ability of the planet to process. There are two major effects likely to take place: first, a rise in sea levels, second, an increase in extreme weather events, like flooding, rains, hurricanes and cyclones. Because of the increase in sea levels, millions of people all over the world will be flooded out of their homes. It so happens that the majority of humankind has settled next to the sea. Pakistan has seen that happen in the shape of Karachi, which shows why people settle along the coasts of landmasses in such large numbers: Karachi is not just the country’s financial and industrial capital, but also the country’s only port. The expected increase in sea level if global warming continues is expected to flood most of the world’s ports, like New York and Tokyo - and Karachi. In that context, Gwadar is not so much an additional port, as a future alternative. Provided it is not flooded also.

While Pakistan is expected to suffer from flooding, it is not among the nations expected to disappear, such as Maldives. Flooding is expected to have a large impact not just because of loss of territory, but the most populous, most productive areas of a country are expected to disappear. Inland will be no picnic, because the number and intensity of extreme weather events are expected to increase. What that means is that the poorest economies will be hit hard, as Pakistan experienced with its worst ever floods a few years ago. Repair and recovery from these events will be costly for developed economies, like the hurricanes striking the USA, but backbreaking for poor economies like Pakistan’s.

The EU response to Pakistan’s floods illustrated two major aspects of the problem. First was the concession of duty withdrawals for Pakistan. Apart from the charity aspect of the decision, it should be noted that the EU stumped up because of guilt: global warming is caused by excessive production of greenhouse gases due to industrial activity, by the industrialised world, not the developing world. Then was the Indian response, which was of strong opposition. That spirit of nationalism is another major obstacle in the approach to global warming.

As the recent IPCC model brought out, no single nation can do anything to solve the problem. If the world’s biggest polluter, the USA, was to stop spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it would not be enough to solve the problem, not unless China and other major polluters came on board. It might be grossly unfair, but the pollution by one nation affects the climate in another, with no regard to their relative wealth. Thus, the greenhouse gases emitted by the world’s richest nations have a disproportionate effect on the world’s poorest. Also, the problem can only be dealt with if national rivalries are subordinated to the common good. The kind of kneejerk Indian opposition of EU measures to benefit Pakistan are an illustration.

A more pressing aspect of extreme weather for most affected countries is the adverse effect expected on food crops. The world continues to experience human population growth at historically unprecedented levels, and thus faces an increased demand for food at a time when the world food supply is headed for climate-induced contraction. One paradox is the high food consumption of the West, and the waste that it implies, is enough to feed the whole world. However, the West seems ready to continue with its obesity epidemic than take the steps necessary to tackle the problem.

While climate change might mean starvation for those now on the edge of starvation, the measures to tackle it, such as reducing carbon emissions, mean a loss of jobs. Seen through the lens of nation-states. This can prove disastrous. President Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Accord precisely because of this. His claim that the Accord condemns the USA to cutting jobs fuelled his rise to the US Presidency. He also championed such heavily polluting industries as coal mining. His success can be seen as one of the symptoms of climate change, as workers in declining industries (which stood no hope of revival if climate change was to be combatted) turned towards him. A less subtle effect of global warming was seen in Iraq and Syria, where people found declines in rainfall had meant that it made more sense to run the risk of becoming a refugee than to continue trying to scratch a living out of the soil.

Pakistan has set up the paraphernalia of a Ministry of Climate Change, and the portfolio has been allocated to a PM’s Adviser, which means someone who attends the Cabinet without having a seat in Parliament. However, the problem is so huge that it can do little but wait for the flooding of its largest port, and the ruin of its agriculture and its irrigation system. Even if the country was to cooperate with its immediate neighbours, little could be done. True, India sees the restrictions on carbon emissions as restricting its drive to become an industrial power. The desire to imitate the West, if fulfilled, would mean a world emitting much more carbon than at present.

Things have reached such a pass, according to the IPCC, that it will not be enough to reduce carbon emissions, but carbon dioxide must be removed from the atmosphere, on the scale of billions of tons. The technology does not exist yet. Already, the measures needed will represent, according to one scientist, ‘the equivalent of a world war’. In short, it will not be possible to concert measures if the world continues to follow the Westphalian model, with nation-states all equal in sovereignty, and all arrayed against each other.

Perhaps the most serious aspect of Trump’s continuing to pursue nationalistic goals is that he is thus indicating that the USA will not lead in this, perhaps the greatest crisis humanity has faced. Worse, he seems determined to make the crisis worse. He perhaps has the reassurance that no one will blame him, because no one will be left to do so. Another worrisome aspect of his indirect admission was for him to concede this means that things have got really, really bad.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.

Things have reached such a pass, according to the IPCC, that it will not be enough to reduce carbon emissions, but carbon dioxide must be removed from the atmosphere, on the scale of billions of tons.