The news that humanity will be pushed out of its so-called climate niche, in which our world has flourished, progressed and developed for millennia, is too alarming for policymakers everywhere to simply gloss over. It cannot be blamed on excessive scientific reading and analysis of data or simply discarded as a scaremongering effort by anti-fossil fuel lobbies. They cannot even claim that there are much more pressing geostrategic life and death issues to worry about. Instead, they must give credence and urgency to the need to deal with climate change, which all of us in the Global North and Global South alike are noticing every day.
Despite all the international action plans to reduce emissions and transition to a less polluting socioeconomic formula, it seems that our world is likely to surpass the key limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — as set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement — within the next five years. The World Meteorological Organization, in its latest report published last week, revealed that there is a 66 percent likelihood that the annual average near-surface global temperature between 2023 and 2027 will be more than 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels for at least one year. This would mean 2 billion people experiencing average annual temperatures above 29 C by 2030, a level that very few communities have experienced in the past.
This would only mean more frequent severe and extreme weather, such as hurricanes, cyclones, heat waves, droughts and wildfires. These would likely affect the stability of ecosystems and the food available to us, as well as displacing an even larger number of people from their native lands, with all that that could mean for peace and stability in the world.
We have already amplified the intensity and duration of weather extremes felt around the world and the damage caused as a result
The UN weather agency’s latest series of revelations offered a recap and reminder as it opened its 19th congress in Geneva, which assembles all 193 of its member states. It is pressing the message that the current provisions and policies dealing with global warming are likely to expose humanity to life-threatening extreme heat by the century’s end, as the planet is on track to be 2.7 C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. This will push more than 2 billion people outside their climate comfort zone, with chunks of the population in countries like India, Nigeria, Indonesia, the Philippines and Pakistan facing deadly heat levels if this scenario were to materialize. If the world was able to cap global warming at 1.5 C, it would reduce the number of those at risk to below half a billion.
Scientists have maintained that, even with the 1.2 C of warming seen to date, we have already amplified the intensity and duration of weather extremes felt around the world and the damage caused as a result.
The threshold for “dangerous heat” used in the new findings is a mean annual temperature of 29 C. Across history, human communities have been densest around two distinct mean annual temperatures — 13 C in temperate zones and 27 C in more tropical areas. Higher temperatures beyond those thresholds, scientists believe, could strongly be linked to greater mortality, reduced labor productivity and poorer crop yields. All this would likely come along with more armed conflicts and the spread of more infectious diseases.
I do not want to be a doom and gloom ambassador, but the facts around us are difficult to ignore. Punching the word “climate” into a search engine returned the following headlines: “Half the world’s largest lakes and reservoirs are drying up,” “1 billion people in 43 countries are threatened by cholera,” “Glaciers are melting at dramatic speed, making saving them a lost cause,” “The Tigris and Euphrates rivers are shriveling,” “Centuries-old oasis in Morocco threatened with extinction due to climate change,” and “From Somalia to Pakistan, the world’s poorest are facing the harshest impacts of climate change.”
Amid the divisions and competition among the powerful actors leading our world, our planet and species look increasingly vulnerable
Despite all this, the world continues to brush aside the negative news, instead preferring to consume today and deal with the problem of sourcing our staples, water and other essentials tomorrow. This is, of course, an accepted form of human instinct that seeks to shield itself from the negative and keep going even when faced with such colossal levels of adversity. But this should not make us complacent or ready to favor the avoidance of global warming concerns and deny that the climate is the highest-ranking priority, even before national security, throughout the state system of today.
The world is surely not standing idle in its public and private efforts to mitigate the potential damage caused by a warming planet. Countries and corporations are meeting, talking and pledging, and some are executing ambitious plans to curb emissions, while others are banking on technology such as carbon capture or a less-damaging fossil fuel that can be used in cars and aviation. Even food production, personal and public transport, heating and cooling and other areas that we take for granted are trying to adapt to mitigate the threats humanity will face from the drastic impacts of emissions, but clearly all that is not enough.
The latest report from the World Meteorological Organization is a poignant reminder that maybe what has already been achieved and what is planned to be done in the future is not enough. What is needed is a global effort — by the rich and the poor, the West and the East, the conservative right and the radical left, and the believers in conspiracy theories, to mention just a few — to pause geostrategic discord and point-scoring in the interest of finding and implementing the roadmap necessary to transition to a cleaner and saner existence. But amid the divisions and competition among the powerful actors leading our world, our planet and species look increasingly vulnerable.