The world’s climate catastrophe – there is little time left to act

 Reminders that our planet is wilting under the impact of human-driven climate change have been hard to avoid this month. Catastrophic floods have killed 160 in Germany while more than 50 died after massive inundations swept through the central Chinese province of Henan when a year’s worth of rain fell in three days last week.

At the same time, forest fires have ripped through one of the world’s coldest places, Siberia, after unusually hot, dry weather gripped the region. Canada and the US have also been afflicted by conflagrations that have destroyed communities and vast areas of woodland. One blaze in the US state of Oregon has spread over an
area 25 times the size of Manhattan and has raged out of control for weeks.

Global warming, triggered by rising levels of greenhouse gases, has beenimplicated in every case. The problem, say scientists, is that to halt worsening weather patterns by 2050, rises in global temperatures will have to be limited to around 1.5C from pre-industrial days.

However, the world has already heated up by 1.2C since then, thanks to the greenhouse gases we
have put into the atmosphere, and the prospects of limiting further rises to a fraction of a degree over the next 30 years look remote. In fact, estimates based on current pledges by nations to cut emissions suggest
temperatures are likely to rise by more than 2C above preindustrial levels by the middle of the century.

In such a future, more than a quarter of the world’s population would be likely to experience extreme drought for at least one month a year; rainforests would face eradication; melting ice sheets would result in dangerous sea level rises and trigger major changes in the behaviour of ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream.

In addition, loss of reflective ice from the poles would cause oceans to absorb more solar radiation, while melting permafrost in Siberia and other regions would release plumes of methane, another greenhouse gas. Inevitably, temperatures would soar even further.

This terrifying prospect has come about because politicians and business leaders have failed, for several
decades, to appreciate the risks involved in massively interfering with the make-up of our atmosphere and to instigate measures to limit the damage. As a result, the world faces a climate catastrophe with little time left to act to counter the threat.

 Observer 25th July 2021

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