Climate crisis: Where we stand

See what the latest IPCC findings really mean, why there is still hope — and how your actions today, tomorrow and through the rest of this decade will help determine the outcome of our world.
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(Bloomberg)
Updated on Oct 22, 2021 08:09 PM IST
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ByVanessa Viegas

The extreme climate events that we have witnessed over the past two years, floods, wildfires, heatwaves, tropical storms and more, are the result of an increase of 1.1 degrees Celsius in average global temperature over pre-industrial levels (defined as the levels on record for the period from 1850 to 1900).

According to the latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in a report released on August 9, its sixth major assessment report since its founding in 1988, this is only the beginning.

Global warming will likely reach or exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels within the next two decades. This decade’s actions will determine whether we can contain global warming at these levels and avoid worse climate consequences.

If emissions continue at their current pace, estimates suggest that the average temperatures over India are likely to rise by 4.4 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels by 2100.

LET’S FACE THE FACTS TOGETHER

2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020: The last five years have been the hottest on record since 1850.

3x: The pace of sea-level rise has roughly tripled, in comparison with rates from 1901 to 1971.

Since the 1950s, practically all of the world’s glaciers have been retreating at the same time, an event unprecedented in at least 2,000 years. At the poles, sea-ice loss is extreme and accelerating, with yearly average Arctic sea-ice extent falling to its lowest levels on record this decade.

IS IT TOO LATE? THE SHORT ANSWER IS NO

The IPPC report said, accurately, that if we reached zero emissions today, temperatures would still continue to rise until about 2050. That’s called committed warming. Put simply, a certain amount of future global warming is now a given, since the cycle for that warming has already been set in motion.

The reason many climate activists were upset with that statement was that it makes the situation sound hopeless, when taken out of context. The truth is, it has never been more vital for everyone to participate: industries, governments, activists, and the individual.

The solution lies in the idea of net-zero emissions, where emissions caused by human activity are slashed, and also counterbalanced through the use of natural and artificial carbon sinks, by regenerating forests, as well as by cutting down on waste and reducing certain kinds of consumption.

Realistically, net-zero emissions could be possible between 2035 and 2070, for different countries. Technology is evolving, more individuals, companies and governments are aware and participating.

The more emissions we cut today, the further we stay from the danger mark of 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, and the closer we can get to net-zero emissions.

Here’s what you can do:

Take the train instead of the plane; use public transport when you can

Switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources and electric vehicles

Cut as much plastic out of your life as you can

Reduce waste

Recycle. As vital, don’t discard. Every object you buy takes water and power to make, raises its carbon footprint further when it’s packed and shipped. Reuse everything you can. For as long as you can.

IF WE CHOOSE NOT TO ACT

If we choose not to act, the extremes will get worse. Rising temperatures on land and in the oceans will result in intensified drought, greater tropical storms, more wet and dry extremes in the global monsoon.

As the rates of loss of polar sea ice and permafrost rise, this will heighten the pace of the warming and disrupt ocean ecosystems.

There will be repercussions for farming and food production, for cities, economies, homes and businesses. For you.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2021