I don’t like to say “I told you so” but this week’s frightening news that the world is likely to breach the 1.5C climate threshold by 2027 should come as no surprise if you have been reading my columns.
Countries pledged, under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, to hold global temperatures to no higher than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, after scientific advice that heating beyond that level would unleash a cascade of increasingly catastrophic and potentially irreversible impacts. But despite the fine talk and all the COP conferences emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise and accumulate in the atmosphere. It is now increasingly likely that we will reach tipping points that result in much greater increases in temperature. This catastrophic change will be unstoppable even if we completely stop burning fossil fuels.
Temperature increases are not the same around the world. Some areas such as the north and south poles, are experiencing much bigger changes in temperature.
This graph was generated from the “Show your Stripes” website, which is run by the Institute of Environmental Analytics at Reading University. The graph compares each year’s temperature in Sheffield with the average for the years between 1971 and 2000. Last year was the hottest year on record and the previous hottest was 2020. We are now regularly experiencing temperatures more than 1 degree above this average.
The graph may not look very alarming to you. But what scientists are telling us is that this steady increase in temperature may soon change to a much more dangerous upward trend due to the tipping points that will be reached.
German physicist and Founder of the Potsdam Institute Hans Joachim Schellnhuber says “Our worst-case scenarios are more or less coming true and yet the political class has not acted at all”.
Anthony Costello (Professor of Global Health and Sustainable Development at UCL) is concerned that climate change doesn’t energise politicians and the public because we describe heating in terms of temperature. Saying the world has warmed by 1.2 degrees sounds like a nice pleasant weekend. So he found some other ways to describe it.
“We pump 1,337 tonnes of CO2 into our thin and fragile atmosphere every second.
How much energy was required to heat the world by 1.2 degrees? In terms of ‘Hiroshima bomb equivalents’ how many bomb loads of energy have been added? Sixty, 600, 6 million or 6 billion?
The answer is 6.2 billion Hiroshima bomb equivalents, measured between 1955 and 2021, or 384 terajoules. That is more than two nuclear bomb equivalents per second. “
We have known for 30 years that we must stop burning fossil fuels. Yet our G7 politicians, meeting in Hiroshima as I write, continue to ignore the urgency of the situation. They have been rightly slammed for failing to show climate leadership and backsliding on the promises made previously.
President Biden has approved the new Willow pipeline and oil wells on the remote tundra of Alaska’s northern Arctic coast. The scale of Willow is vast, with more than 200 oilwells, several new pipelines, a central processing plant, an airport and a gravel mine set to enable the extraction of oil long beyond the time scientists say that wealthy countries should have kicked the habit, in order to avoid disastrous global heating.
Prime Minister Sunak supports the drilling of the Rosebank oil field in the North Sea which will completely undermine our commitment to reach Net Zero.
Germany and Australia are opening new coal mines, China and India are expanding coal production and use, while banks continue to invest in big oil.
The COP process of meetings has failed. In 2023 the meeting president will be chair of the United Arab Emirates national oil company. Fossil fuel lobbyists will be the largest contingent.
But there are many options for political action immediately to slash fossil fuel use and decarbonise. We need G7 leaders to act collectively and boldly. Financial institutions need to recognise inaction will destroy the global economy sooner than they think.
While this is going on our Government is making it more difficult to protest. Government should be listening to the climate scientists, but they are having to risk jail for peacefully protesting to get their voices heard.
This week we have seen Italy suffer severe flooding, killing 14 people and forcing 36,000 from their homes. It is only a matter of time before the UK experiences something similar.
In Somalia, 250,000 people have had to flee their homes due to extreme flooding. Of course the media were much more interested in the demise of Phillip Schofield which is clearly far more important to them.
We can’t sit back and be spectators, watching our planet become uninhabitable. We all have to play our part to help protect it. Some will choose to protest, others may work with pressure groups or political parties. Others will want to find ways to work locally to make their area more resilient to face the coming climate storm.
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