The 2015 International Paris Agreement on carbon emissions set a target to limit the average global temperature increase to 1.5°C more than preindustrial times. This could be interpreted either as aiming for 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) warming with a 50% chance of staying below it, or as aiming for “well below” 1.5°C with a 66% chance of avoiding more than 1.5°C warming.
carbon emissions are increasing year on year
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2018 report set out the results of a scientific calculation of the amount of carbon dioxide pollution that humanity could release into the atmosphere, while limiting the increase in warming since preindustrial time (around the year 1850), to the internationally agreed temperature goals. The goal was set at below 2°C, with efforts to limit warming further to 1.5°C.
We can understand better the carbon emissions threat and what these temperature measures and target dates mean in down-to-Earth terms by looking at the facts on the ground. At the end of 2019 we passed the 1°C increase threshold. The increase of 1°C in average global temperature is by definition an ‘average’ and hides the reality of extreme weather conditions. This happens as even a small overall temperature increase has the potential to destabilise the balance that exists in nature’s ecosystems.
The mountain glaciers and the ice cover over the Arctic and Antarctic are melting at accelerating rates causing havoc to the cryosphere ecosystems they used to maintain. Cyclones (hurricanes) have become more frequent and more violent. Extreme rainfalls are causing devastating floods. The forests in all continents are burning and pushing hundreds of thousands of species to extinction. Droughts are becoming more frequent, hotter and longer causing desertification and famine killing nine million people annually. Storms at sea are now more violent causing flooding of coastal areas. Animal and fish populations are collapsing – the biodiversity losses are incalculable. Nature has altogether become more unpredictable than it ever was before for reason that people have disrupted the pre-existing order and chaos has set in.
the oceans are losing oxygen and are becoming more acidic
Ocean waves are higher. The seas and oceans are getting warmer, loosing oxygen and becoming more acidic. The oceans pH is changing. Coral reefs are dying. Fish populations and other marine life are rapidly decreasing as all marine life needs oxygen and a certain pH level in order to survive. Warming oceans are changing the flow of surface and deep water currents that redistribute heat and cold around the globe. This is having a direct impact on the benign and predictable global weather conditions we are familiar with. Four million people annually across the world are dying prematurely from pollution every year. Insect populations globally are plummeting.
There is more, however this should be enough to illustrate the horrific impact that a 1°C increase has already had and will continue to have as it spirals out of control and becomes much, much worse. The IPCC estimates do not include feedback loops. One such feedback loop as the melting of the permafrost that could release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If this happens the battle is lost and there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop it. The disruption to human civilisation will be total.
Almost all of the models used in the IPCC report rely on carbon removal to some extent. Carbon removal would hypothetically be carried out using technology. The use of carbon removal technologies at the scale that would be necessary is totally untested. Given the risks and uncertainties related to various carbon removal options, rolling out these technologies would have to be done in a safe and prudent manner. If the speed and scale of deployment is limited as expected, reliance on this strategy to meet the 1.5°C goal, especially for those scenarios that overshoot 1.5˚C, would be foolhardy. On the other hand if these options are recklessly and prematurely implemented on a large scale in a panic, the consequences are most likely to be tragic.
Greta Thunberg, climate activist, addressing the U.S. House of Representatives on the 5th December 2019
The carbon budgets are estimates, albeit the best estimates that our scientific community have come up with. The debate on whether the carbon budget is actually smaller or larger than stated in the IPCC report is irrelevant. Logic dictates that we accept the fact that a carbon emissions countdown exists and for this purpose the IPCC report’s estimate is as good as any. It is fairly clear that the impact on the planetary ecosystems is already dramatic at just 1°C increase in average global temperature. The Earth’s ability to sustain life as we know it has already been impaired.
We do not need any more science or any more studies. We know all there is to know. The only question now is will we do anything to stop this ecocide and our own genocide, bearing in mind that not doing enough in time is just as bad as not doing anything at all. The solutions are known and they are not technological. We must protect and restore all ecosystems. We must fundamentally re-evaluate what is means to be human on this Earth. Just one species amongst many, not superior or better, just different. We must find ways to exist in full respect of all other life forms and seek collaboration for mutual benefit. We have much to learn. We must start now as time is fast running out.
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