We will remember 2020 as the good old days as the climate continues to overheat due to our failure to rein in heat-trapping fossil fuel emissions. Heck, this year might even be the coolest we will experience for an unknowable number of Millenium.
We have entered perilous times, and physics will not relent or show mercy as we go forward. Physics doesn’t care about us at all. We have to care for us, and we are failing at it.
This year, we have had scorching temperatures, a record-breaking Atlantic Hurricane season, intensifying rainfall disruptions, and horrifying wildfires from Greenland and Siberia to Australia and the west coast of North America and South America.
The United Nations World Meteorological Organization released a provisional report on the climate change impacts of 2020.
The relentless rise of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere – a phenomenon that has continued despite a travel lull during the pandemic – will fuel temperature rise for decades to come.
“The average global temperature in 2020 is set to be about 1.2 °C above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level. There is at least a one in five chance of it temporarily exceeding 1.5 °C by 2024”, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.
The 1.5 degree threshold represents a milestone the world is trying not to reach: the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, backed by almost every country on earth, calls for keeping the global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial era levels.
To slow temperature rises, the world needs radical action. Countries must decrease production of fossil fuels by 6 per cent per year between 2020 and 2030 if the world is to avert “catastrophic” global temperature rise, according to the UN-backed Production Gap Report released on Wednesday.
Climate records have fallen like dominos in the past decade, so notching up merely the third hottest year on record may seem to suggest some respite. But that would be a false conclusion, because 2020’s heat rose in a year when the world was experiencing a La Niña weather pattern, which normally means lower temperatures.
One of the most dangerous roadblocks to our survival is carbon sinks – the oceans, trees, and soils worldwide are becoming carbon sinks. I wrote a diary on the Amazon and Joe Biden’s plans to save it. Did not get many eyes, had some criticisms about climate crimes, scrolled into oblivion. This one will likely do the same, but some consolation is that the headline will get views as folks scroll down for diaries that don’t waste beautiful minds, even when the content does get little attention.
To avoid irreversible damage the UN has asked countries to cut their carbon emissions by 45% before or by 2030 and aim for “net-zero” emissions by 2050. Net-zero emissions would mean that the forests and other natural resources in the country absorb the amount of carbon that economic activity in the country releases. The Himalayan nation of Bhutan has managed to do so where it is constitutionally mandated that 60% of the country be under forest cover.
“A pertinent question is what could be done? First and foremost, we must change our approach to build. Our infrastructure must be climate resilient,” said Anjal Prakash, research director and adjunct associate professor at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. “In climate terms, we call it transformative adaptation which is incremental adaptation and requires system-wide changes or changes in more than one system. In the present case, the planning, implementing and monitoring process must be climate resilient and a systemic overhaul is necessary.”