The world is already hotter by 1 degree Celcius. While we know that the dangers of climate change are real, what we don’t know is that the first major climate crisis may hit us as early as 2040. Much within the lifetime of most people. This shocking revelation made by the United Nations climate panel brings the threat of global warming scarily closer than previously thought.
The rate at which the temperatures are rising has doubled in the last five decades and its consequences are there for all to see. Ice sheets are melting rapidly and rising sea levels are causing frequent flooding along coastal regions. Greenland, for example, has been losing an average of 281 billion tonnes of ice per year since the early 90’s. Besides, intense storms, heat waves, wildfires and severe droughts are threatening millions of lives across the globe every year. Hundreds of species are becoming extinct while coral reefs which provide food and coastal protection are bleaching and dying slowly.
The Tipping point
By 2040, the earth’s temperature will get warmer by 1.5° C if we do not curb our carbon emissions. While half a degree rise may sound insignificant, it has the potential to endanger millions of lives and fundamentally alter our ecosystem. Such severe climate impacts were previously thought to occur only when temperatures would increase by 2° C.
Moreover, 1.5 degrees is taken as the global average temperature rise. Temperature increase and its resultant consequences will vary from place to place, affecting some more than the others. Greenland, for example, is warming much faster than the rest of the world and will see irreversible melt at this limit. Africa will see its worst ever starvation deaths while rising levels may partially sink smaller island nations like the Maldives while only causing massive flooding elsewhere.
12 years to the limit
Under the Paris agreement, nations had pledged to keep global warming well below 2° C while pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5° C. But the world is not on track to honor this pledge. We are almost on the verge of exhausting the carbon budget associated with 1.5 degrees for 2030 while our dependence on green energy is nowhere close to that of fossil fuels.
Given this current situation, half a degree Celsius rise in the next few decades is totally inevitable. Already, we are more than halfway to that mark. While it is now difficult to scale down, what we can certainly do is contain it at the minimum set benchmark. Doing this will call for rapid and unprecedented collective efforts by the world at large.
To stay below the 1.5° C threshold, global emissions need to be cut down to almost half by 2030 and zero out by 2050
That would mean drastically reducing the use of coal and gasoline-burning vehicles and switching to renewable alternatives like wind and solar. Investment in existing and new sustainable technologies will also have to be prioritized, more so if we end up crossing the threshold. The solutions are definitely not easy to achieve but they are not impossible either.
Touching the 2° C limit will not be the end of the world. But the consequences will be less grave if we can stay safely below it. Despite the imposing challenge, the good news is that we are well-equipped to tackle climate change – scientifically, technologically and financially. All that is needed is a stronger political will and measurable action.
Half a degree was never this important and it will take more than just a half-hearted attempt to save it