Reminders that our planet is withering away from the impact of human-driven climate change have been hard to avoid this month. Catastrophic floods have killed 160 people in Germany, while more than 50 died after massive floods swept through central China’s Henan province, when one-year rain fell in three days last week. At the same time, forest fires have ravaged one of the coldest places in the world, Siberia, after the unusually hot and dry climate hit the region. Canada and the United States have also been affected by conflagrations that have destroyed communities and vast areas of forest. A flame in the US state of Oregon has spread over an area 25 times the size of Manhattan and has been out of control for weeks. Global warming, caused by rising levels of greenhouse gases, has been implicated in all cases.
Things will not get better either. In fact, they can only get worse. Every year, factories, power plants and vehicles pump tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, capturing solar radiation that will further raise temperatures around the world. Even if all greenhouse gas emissions stopped tomorrow, the carbon dioxide that already exists in our atmosphere will remain for decades and continue to heat the planet, turning vegetation into dust and allowing air retain more moisture before releasing it with sudden and devastating consequences.
Not that there is any chance that humanity will give up its addiction to fossil fuels overnight. At best, we could reach this goal by 2050, the date set by world leaders to achieve net greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, we will experience increasingly serious and devastating weather events for another 30 years. Floods, forest fires and storms, along with the reduction of ice sheets, rising sea levels, bleached coral reefs and the spread of deserts, will become the norm. And that’s the best we can expect over the next three decades.
The problem, scientists say, is that to stop worsening weather patterns by 2050, global temperature rises will have to be limited to about 1.5 ° C from pre-industrial days. However, the world has already warmed 1.2C since then, thanks to the greenhouse gases we have introduced into the atmosphere and the prospects of limiting themselves increase further to a fraction of a degree over the next 30 years seem remote. In fact, estimates based on nations ’current promises to reduce emissions suggest that temperatures will rise more than 2 ° C above pre-industrial levels by the middle of the century.
In such a future, it is likely that more than a quarter of the world’s population will experience extreme drought for at least a month a year; rainforests would face eradication; the melting of the ice sheets would lead to dangerous sea level rise and cause significant changes in the behavior of ocean currents such as the gulf current. In addition, the loss of reflective ice from the poles would cause the oceans to absorb more solar radiation, while the melting of permafrost in Siberia and other regions would release methane feathers, another greenhouse gas. Inevitably, temperatures would rise further.
This terrifying prospect has occurred because politicians and business leaders have not been able, for several decades, to appreciate the risks involved in massively interfering with the composition of our atmosphere and putting in place measures to limit the damage. As a result, the world is facing a climate catastrophe with little time to act to counter the threat. We now have less than 100 days before the UN’s Cop26 climate change conference opens in Glasgow, when world leaders will be given one last clear chance to limit climate chaos.
The outlook does not look encouraging, as was made very clear on Friday in Naples, when the energy and environment ministers of the G20 group of rich countries, together responsible for 85% of annual emissions, were unable to agree on a Complete package of commitments to deal with climate change. The G20 meeting was seen as a staging site of critical importance until Cop26 and its failure to find common ground demonstrates how difficult it will be to reach a meaningful agreement in Scotland. Last week, a major point of contention was the refusal of India and China to agree to the phasing out of coal energy, one of the most environmentally harmful industrial processes on the planet.
Even more troubling is the fact that rich countries and developing nations are at the starting point on how to distribute the bill that will have to be paid to deal with global warming. The latter were to receive at least $ 100 billion a year from public and private sources in rich nations to help them avoid the worst of the extreme weather caused by oil, gas and coal burned by the rich. developed countries over the past two centuries. on its way to industrial power. This was one of the cornerstones of international climate negotiations before the 2015 Paris agreement, which pledged the world to try to keep global warming below 1.5 ° C. rich countries have not fulfilled these commitments. This disagreement bodes ill for Cop26 in November.
The next opportunity for politicians will come in October, when heads of state and leaders of G20 countries are expected to meet and hopefully ensure that the final phase of Cop26 is launched again. . If not, the prospects for success of the summit seem worrying. Saving the world will go straight to the point, it seems.
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