Earth’s climate is moving closer to a dangerous threshold and a point of no return. Both land and sea are posting record temperatures around the world.
The alarming rise in temperatures comes amid international hesitation to set more robust climate goals. This, despite months of searing heat across the globe.
Meanwhile, the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is becoming increasingly unattainable.
According to the EU-funded Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), as climate representatives assembled in Bonn this June for preparatory discussions leading up to the pivotal climate talks scheduled in November, average global surface air temperatures soared past 1.5C above pre-industrial levels for several consecutive days.
Though this threshold has been exceeded before, it marked the first instance during the Northern Hemisphere summer, which begins June 1st. Prior to this, ocean temperatures hit record highs in April and May.
Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a renowned climatologist at Australia’s University of New South Wales, issued a stark warning. He stated, “We’ve run out of time because change takes time.”
The real-world consequences of climate change are clearly evident across the globe. In China, which is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world, the capital city of Beijing experienced record-breaking temperatures in June. Meanwhile, the United States, another significant emitter, was grappling with extreme heat waves.
North America experienced temperatures that were an alarming 10C above the seasonal average. Forest fires raged, blanketing regions across Canada and the U.S. East Coast in hazardous haze. Astonishingly, carbon emissions from these fires are estimated to have reached a record 160 million metric tons.
The impacts also reached beyond North America. Across India, a region highly vulnerable to climate change, persistent high temperatures have been associated with a spike in deaths. Furthermore, extreme heat was recorded in Spain, Iran, and Vietnam, instilling fears that deadly summers could become the new norm.
Back in 2015, countries rallied around an agreement in Paris to strive to maintain long-term average temperature increases within the 1.5C limit. However, the World Meteorological Organization released a disheartening prediction in May. They stated with a 66% probability that the annual mean temperature will cross this threshold for at least one full year within the next four years.
Alarmingly, the surge in land temperatures has been paralleled by record-breaking temperatures in the ocean. Piers Forster, a professor of Climate Physics at the University of Leeds, attributes this to global warming, the El Nino phenomenon, the reduction in Saharan dust blowing over the ocean, and the utilization of low-sulphur shipping fuels. “So in all, oceans are being hit by a quadruple whammy,” he remarked, “It’s a sign of things to come.”
Record heat has wreaked havoc on marine ecosystems. Thousands of dead fish washing up on Texan shores and heat-induced algal blooms are implicated in the deaths of sea lions and dolphins in California.
Annalisa Bracco, a climatologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, cautioned that warmer seas could result in diminished winds and rainfall. This would create a vicious cycle that further escalates heat.
“Though this year’s high sea temperatures are caused by a ‘perfect combination’ of circumstances, the ecological impact could endure,” said Bracco. “The ocean is going to have a very slow response as it accumulates (heat) slowly but also keeps it for very long.”
Have we reached the point of no return? In the midst of this grim scenario, the road to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai seems to be filled with challenges. The Worldwide Fund for Nature expressed concerns regarding the “worrying lack of momentum” during the preliminary climate discussions in Bonn.
Little progress was achieved on essential issues such as fossil fuels and finance. This impasse poses serious impediments to the success of the forthcoming COP28 climate talks in Dubai.
Li Shuo, Greenpeace’s senior climate advisor based in Beijing, voiced his disappointment in the progress of the talks. He argued that they seemed detached from the grave climate realities unfolding outside the confines of the conference building.
“We are really getting to the moment of truth … I am hoping that the sheer reality will help us change people’s moves and change the politics,” said Shuo.
Despite the current circumstances, potential opportunities for progress do exist. Climate talks between the United States and China could recommence next week. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is expected to visit Beijing. Nevertheless, expectations remain modest regarding these discussions and their potential to catalyze momentum in climate negotiations.
“This is more a trust-building exercise. I don’t think either side will be able to push the other side to say much more than they are willing to do – the politics won’t allow that,” said Shuo.
As nations prepare for the critical climate talks in Dubai, the urgency of the climate crisis and the sobering reality of its impacts must take center stage. Bold action is more urgent than ever to protect Earth’s climate from reaching a point of no return.