Climate data show the world could be sprinting into an inferno; time to force rich nations to do much, much more
Will the climate crisis be worse than predicted so far? Recently, there were media reports that climate models that had yielded a 3oC warming pathway (above pre-industrial levels) are now burning red, signalling that the global temperature could rise by as much as 5oC by the next century. For perspective, a 2oC rise in temperature will cause ocean levels to rise drastically, the coral reefs and other marine and land flora and fauna to get wiped out, and severe shortage of water in most locations in the world. While scientists are grappling with the new set of projections and examining the underlying data, given their outputs form the backbone of the goals the policy, industry, and scientific communities have adopted or are pushing, the real question now is this: If the same quantum of pollution will bring greater and faster warming, does humanity have time to act, and if so, by what measure should action to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis be stepped up?
Recent NASA imagery shows that a fifth of the snow on one ice cap in Antarctica melted in a heatwave between February 4 and February 13. Eagle Island, one of the Antarctic islands, saw 4 inches of snow melt in less than a week. With the melt ponds soaking up heat faster than the nearby snow, the melting gets accelerated. While Antarctica has an annual mean temperature of around -57oC, with its coast averaging -10oC, ScienceAlert reports, on February 6, the weather station in Esperanza Bay—the northernmost tip of the continent—recorded the highest temperature ever in the mainland, 18.3oC. It can be argued that a heatwave is not a permanent climate fixture, but this is the third major melt event (indicating a heatwave) of 2019-2020 summer. And, there is prediction that warmer temperatures could happen more often in Antarctic. If we have underestimated the climate crisis—the scale and the pace with which it it will unfold—then, without doubt, even the best of our plans to contain it are already inadequate. The US National Snow and Ice Data Center shows some parts of Antarctica have already warmed by 2.5oC since the 1950s (overall, the world is already hotter by 1.2oC from the pre-industrial levels).
If global heating grows at a faster rate than previously predicted—though the UN World Meteorological Organization hadn’t excluded the chances of such a rise in its 2018 predictions—the immediate need is for all stakeholders to quickly assess what action needs to be taken to keep to the least damaging pathway, and how fast. Once this is done, a lot will depend on whether developing countries are able to ensure that developed nations are no longer able to hold their futures to ransom in the manner the US and other nations led by climate-deniers have. Realistically speaking, all the chips are with the developed nations, and they are still refusing to act—indeed, against the goal of $100 billion of climate action funding from the developed world via the Green Climate Fund by 2020, just $5.6 billion has been committed. But, with trade dynamics changing by the minute, perhaps there is a tool for low middle income countries to force rich nations to the negotiating table.