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The Urgent Realities of Global Warming

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According to 50 leading scientists, human-caused global warming has continued to rise at an “unprecedented rate” since the most recent major assessment of the climate system was published two years ago.

Global warming

Global Warming and the Paris Agreement

The goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is outlined in the Paris Agreement, a global effort to combat climate change. Achieving this goal requires significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and widespread adoption of renewable energy sources.

While progress has been made in recent years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that the world is not currently on track to stay below the 1.5-degree target. In its 2018 special report, the IPCC highlighted the need for rapid and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society to limit global warming.

Global Warming in the most recent decade

For the most recent decade, from 2013 to 2022, human-caused warming exceeded pre-industrial levels by an average of 1.14 °C. This was largely due to the burning of fossil fuels. Between 2010 and 2019, human-caused warming was 1.07°C. Human-caused warming is presently expanding at a pace of over 0.2°C every ten years (so in 2032 we will have caused warming by an average of 1.34 °C above pre-industrial levels!). 

The analysis also found that emissions of greenhouse gases were “at an all-time high,” with human activity causing the equivalent of 54 (+/-5.3) gigatonnes (or billion metric tonnes) of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere annually on average over the past ten years (2012-2021). The scientists argue that policymakers, climate negotiators, and civil society organizations need access to up-to-date and solid scientific evidence to make decisions because of the speed at which the global climate system is changing.

In a paper that was published in the journal Earth System Science Data, the researchers talked about how key indicators have changed since the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Working Group 1 report was published in 2021. This report produced the key data that went into the IPCC Sixth Synthesis Report.

Our remaining carbon budget

Although there has been a positive shift away from burning coal, this has paradoxically come at an increased rate of global warming; as the burning of coal causes the atmosphere to fill with relatively big particles that reflect sunlight and thus have a cooling effect.

The rate of decline in the remaining carbon budget—an estimate of how much carbon can be released into the atmosphere to give a 50% chance of keeping global temperature rise within 1.5°C—is one of the major findings of the analysis.

The IPCC estimated that there would still be approximately 500 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in the carbon budget in 2020. At the beginning of 2023, due to accelerated warming, this figure has been slashed to half that; with a remaining carbon budget as of 2023 of around 250 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.

Both updated estimates of human-caused warming and continued emissions since 2020 are to blame for the reduction in the estimated remaining carbon budget.

Impacts of global warming in different countries

While the specific impacts of climate change can vary depending on a country’s geographical location, socio-economic factors, and adaptive capacity, a few notable examples show that climate change and global warming will have (and in some cases already has had) devastating consequences:

  1. South Korea: Climate change could lead to increased heatwaves, reduced water availability, and threats to agriculture. Rising sea levels could also pose risks to coastal regions, including major cities like Seoul.
    • South Korea last year had some of the deadliest floodings in years in capital city Seoul, which scientists say will happen more frequently.
  2. Turkey: The country may face more frequent and severe droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires, impacting agriculture, water resources, and public health. Coastal areas, including Istanbul, could be at risk from sea-level rise and increased storm surges.
  3. Japan: Rising temperatures could exacerbate heatwaves and result in heat-related deaths. Increased precipitation and typhoons could lead to flooding and landslides. Rising sea levels could threaten coastal areas, including Tokyo.
    • Japan’s aging population poses a unique challenge in the face of climate change. Elderly individuals are generally more vulnerable to heatwaves and extreme weather events. The aging demographic could strain healthcare systems and emergency response capabilities, potentially increasing the risk of casualties and health issues during climate-related crises. An aging population can however be good in the fight against climate change.
  4. United States: The United States is a large and diverse country, so the impacts vary across regions. However, some potential consequences include more frequent and intense hurricanes along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, increased wildfire risks in the western states, water scarcity in arid regions, and threats to agricultural productivity.
    • The United States has significant socioeconomic disparities, and marginalized communities often face higher exposure and vulnerability to climate risks. These communities may have limited resources and infrastructure to cope with and recover from climate-related disasters, exacerbating suffering and inequality.
  5. Germany: Heatwaves and extreme weather events may become more frequent, impacting agriculture, water resources, and human health. Flooding along rivers like the Rhine and Elbe could intensify, posing risks to infrastructure and the economy.
    • The flooding of the Rhine River has already had severe consequences due to the dense population and extensive infrastructure located along its banks. The july 2021 floods already left a trail of destruction in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria.
  6. France: France could experience heatwaves, droughts, and reduced agricultural productivity, particularly in southern regions. Coastal areas, including cities like Marseille, could face increased risks from sea-level rise and storm surges.
    • France’s dependence on nuclear energy for electricity generation presents a unique challenge in the context of climate change. Rising temperatures and heatwaves can lead to reduced cooling efficiency in nuclear power plants, potentially affecting their safety and operational capacity. In recent years this already seems to have been the case.
  7. China: Climate change could result in water scarcity, particularly in northern regions, impacting agriculture and human settlements. Increased flooding risks along major rivers, such as the Yangtze, could threaten infrastructure and densely populated areas.
    • Air pollution is already a significant issue in China, and climate change can exacerbate this problem. Rising temperatures and increased energy demand for cooling could lead to higher levels of air pollution, which can have adverse health impacts, particularly in densely populated urban areas.
  8. Italy: Southern Italy may face more frequent droughts and heatwaves, affecting agriculture and tourism. Rising sea levels could impact coastal cities like Venice and Naples, leading to increased flooding risks.
    • Italy is highly dependent on tourism, and climate change could disrupt this sector. Rising temperatures, heatwaves, and changing weather patterns may impact the attractiveness of certain destinations, affect natural heritage sites (e.g., Venice’s vulnerability to flooding), and alter seasonal tourism patterns. Flooding already has a devastating effect.
  9. Spain: Climate change could intensify heatwaves, leading to increased water demand and risks to agriculture.
    • Coastal areas, including Barcelona and Valencia, could face higher flood risks due to sea-level rise and storm surges.
  10. Russia: The impacts of climate change on Russia could include melting permafrost, which may lead to infrastructure damage, shifts in ecosystems, and increased wildfire risks. Changes in precipitation patterns could also affect agriculture and water availability.
    • Russia’s vast territory includes the Arctic region, which is experiencing accelerated warming and melting permafrost. These changes pose risks to infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines and buildings, leading to potential disruptions in energy supplies and transportation networks. In Yakutia, scientists are already finding rising CO2 emissions due to the thawing of permafrost.
  11. England: More frequent and intense rainfall events could lead to increased flooding risks, particularly in coastal areas and river basins. Rising sea levels could threaten low-lying regions like East Anglia and the Thames Estuary.
    • Rising sea levels can contribute to coastal erosion, threatening infrastructure, coastal communities, and ecosystems. Iconic landmarks like the White Cliffs of Dover could be at risk.
  12. Poland: Climate change could result in decreased water availability, particularly in the southern regions, affecting agriculture and energy production. Heatwaves and extreme weather events may also impact human health and infrastructure.
    • Heatwaves can become more frequent and intense, posing risks to public health, especially for elderly and vulnerable populations. Heat-related illnesses and increased energy demand for cooling can strain healthcare systems and energy infrastructure.

How to deal with global warming

Dealing with the effects of global warming requires a combination of strategies at various levels, including individual, community, national, and global efforts. Here are some key approaches to cope with climate change:

  • Mitigation:
    • Transition to renewable energy sources: Shifting away from fossil fuels and increasing the share of renewable energy in the energy mix can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Energy efficiency: Implementing energy-efficient technologies and practices can reduce energy consumption and lower emissions.
    • Sustainable transportation: Encouraging public transportation, electric vehicles, and active modes of transport like cycling and walking can help reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.
    • Land-use and forest conservation: Protecting and restoring forests, implementing sustainable agricultural practices, and preserving natural ecosystems can contribute to carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation.
  • Adaptation:
    • Enhancing infrastructure resilience: Designing and upgrading infrastructure to withstand climate-related risks, such as floods, storms, and heatwaves.
    • Water management: Developing water conservation measures, improving water-use efficiency, and implementing strategies to address water scarcity.
    • Building codes and standards: Incorporating climate resilience measures into building codes and regulations to ensure infrastructure can withstand climate impacts.
    • Climate-informed agriculture: Promoting climate-smart agricultural practices, diversifying crops, and investing in drought-tolerant and flood-resistant varieties.
    • Early warning systems and emergency preparedness: Developing robust early warning systems for extreme weather events and improving emergency response capabilities to minimize loss of life and property.
  • International cooperation:
    • Strengthening global climate agreements: Encouraging countries to fulfill their commitments under international climate agreements, such as the Paris Agreement, and enhancing collaboration on climate action.
    • Technology transfer and capacity building: Supporting developing countries in accessing climate-friendly technologies, building local capacity, and implementing climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.
    • Financial support: Mobilizing financial resources to support climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, particularly in developing countries that may have limited resources.
  • Education and awareness:
    • Raising awareness: Increasing public understanding of climate change, its impacts, and the importance of individual and collective action.
    • Education and research: Promoting climate change education at all levels and supporting research to develop innovative solutions and technologies.

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