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Home / Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

The planet is burning, but not all hope is lost

By OP Rana | China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-15 06:55
[Shi Yu/China Daily]
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This has not happened in thousands of years. This is not global warming. This is global scorching. And the worst is yet to come.

The hottest June on record was followed by the hottest July ever recorded. July 2019 replaced July 2016 as the hottest on record, with the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Programme, which analyzes temperature data from across the world, saying July was warmer than the global average temperature between 1981 and 2010.

Not only was June 2019 the 414th consecutive month in which temperatures were above the 20th-century average but also nine of the 10 hottest Junes in the past 140 years have occurred since 2010, according to a United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report last month.

Paris experienced its hottest day-42.6 C-on July 25, the same day London's Heathrow Airport recorded its highest July temperature at 36.9 C.

"If we continue to break instrumental records all around the world, it does suggest that the climate system is more sensitive to the level of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere than some of our earlier models had suggested," said Stephan Harrison, a professor of climate and environmental change at the University of Exeter in Britain.

The latest temperature records are fresh proof that the buildup of carbon emissions in the atmosphere is destabilizing the planet's climate system faster than scientists had expected, Harrison said.

The high temperatures in July 2016 were attributed to one of the strongest El Nino events, which are marked by warming of the waters in the Pacific and have a pronounced warming effect on the planet's average temperature. But in the first half of this year, El Nino has been weak, transitioning to a more neutral phase. Which makes the extreme July temperatures alarming, to say the least.

This year's weather data suggest we are on track for the second-hottest year ever, after 2016, said Freja Vamborg, a senior scientist at Copernicus. The temperature record was close to 1.2 C above pre-industrial levels, meaning the world is rapidly approaching the crucial threshold of 1.5 C that would precipitate the risk of extreme weather events and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people across the world.

In 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had warned that the world has until 2030 to avoid such catastrophic levels of global warming and called on governments to meet their Paris Agreement obligations. Although close to 200 countries and the European Union have pledged to keep the global temperature below 2 C as part of the Paris climate accord, it would be very difficult for the world do so as the US, the second-largest emitter, has withdrawn from the climate accord with its leader claiming climate change is a "hoax".

As if all this was not enough of a climate threat, the Arctic Circle has been on fire this year. In fact, 11 wildfires were raging in the Arctic last month. Fires have blazed in Russia, Norway and Finland, too, but Sweden has been the worst hit this year.

The fires are a result of a heat wave that is bringing unusually hot, dry weather to much of Europe, conflagrations far outside of Europe's Mediterranean fire zone, The Guardian reported. And the European Forest Fire Information System warned in July that fire conditions will persist in Central and Northern Europe over the next few weeks.

Scientists say the increase in northern fires is another sign of climate change. Northwest Britain and Sweden are "typically mild and wet which allows forests and peatlands to develop quite large carbon stores", said Vincent Gauci, a professor of global change ecology at Open University in Britain. "When such carbon-dense ecosystems experience aridity and heat and there is a source of ignition-lightning or people-fires will happen."

What the world is experiencing is terrifying but not as terrifying as giving up hope. We can still fight climate change-if we really want to.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres will host the 2019 Climate Action Summit on Sept 23 to meet the climate challenge, sending strong market and political signals to help achieve the Paris Agreement objectives and the Sustainable Development Goals. And the UN Climate Change Conference, scheduled for Dec 2-13 in Santiago, Chile, is expected to consolidate the Paris Agreement agenda.

But let us hope the two vital climate meetings this year don't end up in failures, as in the recent past.

The author is a senior editor with China Daily.

  
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