21st November 2022
We’re in a climate crisis – will it get worse?
Global temperatures have risen by at least 1.1C, and possibly nearer to 1.2C, above the pre-industrial revolution norm. This is because of the increasing proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – as of October 2022 this measures 419 parts per million. Pre-industrial levels stood at around 280 ppm. At 350 ppm the world could maintain global temperatures at about 1C above pre-industrial levels.
With a global temperature rise of at least 1.1C we are already in a climate crisis.
Icecaps, and glaciers are melting and reducing in size. Melt water from Himalayan glaciers has been contributing to flooding in Pakistan, whilst across the world sea levels are rising and drowning low lying coast lines in places like Tonga, Kiribati and Vanuatu.
Warming seas are killing off corals through the process of bleaching. They are shifting the location and breeding patterns of many marine creatures at a rate which is causing a steep decline in populations of many species including birds – and land based animals that rely on the oceans for food.
Warming seas and warming air causes increasingly heavy rainfall and strengthening tropical storms, monsoons and hurricanes. These extreme weather events have led to flooding and the destruction of homes, roads and other infrastructure, forests and mangrove swamps – these latter help prevent coastal erosion – across the globe. We have also experienced exceptionally heavy rain and storms in the UK. In February of this year three storms hit the UK – Franklin, Dudley and Eunice – leaving three dead and 1.4 million homes without power. Just this last few days storms have again bought flooding to the UK cutting of road and rail links and leaving another person dead.
Summers have become hotter and dryer. The hottest temperature of 40.3C was recorded this summer, whilst four of the five hottest summers in the UK have all occurred within the last 20 years. This summer’s series of heatwaves caused more than 2800 excess deaths. The same heat wave has been felt across the world with wild fires in the UK, Europe and North America. The hot weather has been accompanied by a lack of rain causing widespread droughts, some of which, for example in California and East Africa, have been ongoing for several years. The drought in East Africa is creating a widespread famine.
These are all examples of changes in the climate that we will have to live with both here in the UK and across the world. They are changes that are now built in because we cannot reverse the 1.1C increase in average global temperatures. As global temperatures rise we will have to come to terms with even more changes in the climate, and will have to try and adapt to them. Ideally (or rather the least worse scenario is) our aim should be to do all we can to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C.
Is this possible? Scientists and academics have been working on this for several decades now and the route map agreed in Paris in 2016 is that if we can reduce all carbon dioxide (and associated greenhouse gases) emissions by approximately half by 2030 and to net zero by 2050 we should be able to keep temperature rises to 1.5 or 2C. Calculations have been carried out to show that this would be possible if the appropriate plans are put in place now and acted on. It is in everyone’s best interests to follow the carbon emissions reduction plan.
Will we achieve this?
At present it doesn’t look hopeful. In fact this year carbon emissions are expected to rise by around 1% rather than fall. Following last year’s agreements at COP26, it was hoped that nations and parties would come back with revised plans showing even greater ambitions to reduce emissions to meet the 2030 and 2050 targets. We are still waiting for the final outcomes of COP27 but certainly the UK Government is not on track for the 2030 targets. And the Government’s willingness to grant new licences for exploring more oil and gas fields in the North Sea is definitely a regressive step.
Can we be part of the solution?
Yes. We can focus on reducing our own carbon footprints – by 2030 we should be aiming for about 2.7 tonnes of CO2 per capita in the UK which is about half of the current average. (There are a number of carbon footprint calculators on the web. The WWF – https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/#/ – one is very easy to use whilst the Carbon Footprint Calculator is more in depth – https://calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx?c=Full&h=ae20102bc28339fca671f85aed9a7be0) Knowing what your footprint is and what are its major components will enable you to,begin to work out how you can reduce it. As we work out how we can achieve this reduction we can put pressure on the companies we buy from – writing or emailing or simply asking in store for things/ services with a lower impact. We can also use our voices to call on the Government to create the system changes that are also needed – such as increased investment in public transport, in the insulation of buildings, completing the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy supplies, and transforming the way we farm and the foods we eat.
We also need our Government and big businesses to work with their colleagues across the world to achieve a just transition to a net zero world. The climate crisis is a global crisis and needs global cooperation, or, as The UN Secretary General put it, we will be condemning ourselves to a global suicide pact. We can use our voices writing to MPs and business leaders, joining action groups, signing petitions, and at election time, using our votes.
The future is in our hands.