Jul 1, 2024 | Climate emergency, Government

Climate: good news and bad news

by Anne MacLennan

Global temperatures are predicted to reduce a little from later this year, possibly for a few years, but while that could bring some temporary relief, it doesn’t mean we can relax efforts to bring down greenhouse gas emissions asap. The underlying trend is accelerating relentlessly upwards. The rate of warming has increased from 0.18°C  per decade in 1970-2010 to 0.32°C / decade now, so that the world is currently about 1.6°C warmer than in pre-industrial times.

It can be confusing that annual weather is variable and affected by other natural conditions such as La Niña and El Niño and aerosols in the atmosphere. Generally,  La Niña cools things down a bit and  El Niño makes it warmer. so last year’s record temperatures have been attributed to an El Niño. Jim Hansen, renowned climate scientist says it’s not that simple. The heating in  recent years was exacerbated by the effect of cutting aerosol pollution and given a further boost when a strong La Niña gave way to El Niño last year. Although bad for pollution, aerosols deflect global heating, so by cutting sulphate aerosols from power plants after 2010 and then from marine shipping after about 2020, the heat was unmasked (my word). Hansen predicts a temporary slight cooling from about September as La Niña establishes and aerosols have stabilised.

2023 was the hottest year on record, with startling extremes in ocean temperatures, according to the IPCC, along with extreme weather events, wildfires  and relentlessly rising sea levels – all due to ‘more than a century of human activities, including burning fossil fuels, and unequal and unsustainable patterns of energy and land use.’  New risks are anticipated if we remain beyond 1.5°C warming, with more sea level rise, permafrost degradation, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, more extreme weather, and food insecurity. Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries and that accumulation is the problem. Without urgent action to curb emissions, it won’t be possible to get back below 1.5 because the available carbon budget will be used up by the end of this decade with current behaviour. The ‘means and tools’ for meaningful action already exist, and most have useful co-benefits for health and wellbeing, so it is deceitful to delay or avoid action on the basis of cost alone.

Over 700,000 people in 77 countries were asked 15 questions about climate change earlier this year in The People’s Climate Vote 2024. Although there is variability, citizens were remarkably consistent in several answers. For example, 86% of global respondents (90% in UK) wanted countries to work together on climate change even if they disagree on other things such as trade or security, and 80% want stronger climate action from their leaders.

Whatever UK Government is in place later this month, it is up to us to let them know what our concerns are, to support appropriate policies and to criticise inaction or anti-climate actions. Think about writing to your MP now and then about climate and environmental matters.

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