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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Rate of global warming caused by humans is higher than ever

At this rate, Earth will cross the threshold of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit of warming compared to pre-industrial levels in just five years.

(CN) — Last year was the warmest year on record. And according to the second annual Indicators of Global Climate Change report, published on Tuesday, 2023 also saw the rate of climate change caused by humans hit an all-time high.

"We’re seeing unprecedented climate change and an unprecedented rate of change," said Professor Piers Forster, director of the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures at the University of Leeds, who coordinated the Indicators of Global Climate Change Project. "Global temperatures are still heading in the wrong direction and faster than ever before."

The rate of human-induced warming over the last ten years has reached 2.14 degrees Fahrenheit, an increase from the 2.05 degrees Fahrenheit seen in the period between 2013 and 2022. In other words: the planet is hotter than ever, the rate of its heating is increasing, and most of that is due to greenhouse gas emissions and other human causes.

There were also some natural reasons for the exceptionally hot 2023, including an El Nino climate pattern. But those natural causes only accounted for about 10% of the longterm global warming trend.

If the current rate of global warming continues, Earth will reach the threshold of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit of global warming, as compared to pre-industrial levels, in just five years. That is the threshold that countries who signed the Paris Agreement agreed to try to stay below — but which now most researchers agree is unavoidable.

Global greenhouse gas emissions dropped in 2020, the first year of the Covid pandemic, but have since returned to 2019 levels. Some countries, like the U.S. and the U.K., have cut their emissions. China, which is by far the worst emitter of greenhouse gasses, may see its levels start to decline this year or next.

Another positive sign, according to Forster: if there is a "climate tipping point," a point at which global warming starts to accelerate and essentially spin out of control in an irreversible way, we haven't hit it yet.

"We can’t see much evidence of that," said Forster, who was quick to push back on climate doomerism. "If we do take action tomorrow we can halve the rate [of climate change] within ten years — if we really reduce our greenhouse gas emissions." He added: "Things are changing — though not as fast as we should be."

The Indicators of Global Climate Change Project is meant to fill in the gap years between official reports published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the next one of which is expected in 2027. The latest Indicator report, authored by more than 50 scientists and published in the journal Earth System Science Data, comes months before the the 2024 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties, or COP29, to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan. There, countries will meet to negotiate a new set of agreements and climate goals.

"We have to replace oil and gas infrastructure," said Forster. "We have to drive electric cars. It’s obvious what we have to do."

Fossil fuel emissions from the burning of gas and coal account for roughly 70% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and remain by far the main driver of climate change. Other causes include cement production, farming and deforestation.

One curious and surprisingly significant driver of climate change has been reduced sulfur emissions in cargo ships, which have helped improve overall air quality but have, according to a paper published last week, exacerbated climate change, singe sulfur and other aerosols help clouds reflect the sun's rays back into space.

In addition to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, some climate scientists have argued that countries should be exploring the idea of purposely spraying aerosols into the air to help slow the rate of climate change.

"It would only be a short-term, temporary thing to do," said Forster. "We’d be chucking some extra shit into the atmosphere to compensate for the shit that we’re already chucking into the atmosphere, and that’s not really a good thing."

"We are going to have to address our emissions eventually. There is no alternative. We aren’t going to be able to survive in the world with ever-changing temperatures," he added.

Follow @hillelaron
Categories / Environment, Science

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