Humanity can’t say that it wasn’t warned about climate change. Year on year, climate impacts worsen around the world (the latest being the devastating floods in Pakistan and the severe drought in Europe) and global temperatures continue to rise (last month was the second hottest August on record since 1880), but the collective reaction is to shrug our shoulders and carry on.
“Floods, droughts, heatwaves, extreme storms and wildfires are going from bad to worse, breaking records with alarming frequency. Heatwaves in Europe. Colossal floods in Pakistan. Prolonged and severe droughts in China, the Horn of Africa and the United States. There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters. They are the price of humanity’s fossil fuel addiction,” said the UN Secretary-General António Guterres on 13 September. He was delivering some hard truths on the occasion of the release of this year’s United In Science report, helmed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
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The report synthesizes the latest scientific findings from the apex climate institutions around the world, including the WMO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UK Met Office. The prognosis is stark. Planet heating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to rise instead of decreasing: despite the dip in fresh emissions in 2020 due to covid-19 related lockdowns, emissions have since surged to levels higher than before the pandemic, driven by the US, India and most European countries.
Climate science is clear: we are heading in the wrong direction, according to a new multi-agency #UnitedinScience report.— World Meteorological Organization (@WMO) September 13, 2022
It highlights the huge gap between aspirations and reality.
⤵️https://t.co/EqS88lX5a9#ClimateAction #ClimateChange pic.twitter.com/RNbADi29rx
As a result, the last seven years (2015-2021) have been the hottest years on record, with the global average temperature being around 1.1 degree Celsius higher than pre-industrial (1850-1900) levels. To put this into context, the current global effort is to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100. And the report states, there is now a high chance (48%) that the annual mean temperature of least one of the next five years will be 1.5 degree Celsius. There is now a 93% chance that at least one of the next five years will be the hottest on record.
In last week’s column, we saw how close we are to breaching global climate tipping points, and the United In Science report re-iterates that warming. It also states that current global ambitions to bring down GHG emissions is woefully insufficient: right now, the world is headed towards an unimaginable 2.8 degree Celsius rise in temperatures by 2100. If current global commitments are honoured, that would still result in the world heating up by 2.5 degree Celsius by the end of the century.
With rising emissions and temperatures, human vulnerability to climate impacts is also increasing, especially in cities. The report gives an example of Delhi heatwaves between March and May this year, when temperatures rose to 49.2 degree Celsius. Climate change made such a heatwave 30 times more likely, and prolonged hot weather is now becoming the norm, and will impact half of Delhi’s population.
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Drastically lowering global emissions is the only way that climate change can be checked, and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that to keep the 1.5 degree goal in sight, global emissions have to be slashed by half by 2030. The United In Science report states that national pledges to decrease emissions have to be, on average, seven times higher to achieve this. Currently only India and nine other G20 member countries are on track to achieve their stated pledges to reduce emissions (compatible with restricting global warming to a 2 degree rise by 2100).
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