Not to be the herald of despair, but you should be very concerned. Why? I hear you ask. Because average global temperature is set to rise by at least two degrees Celsius, triggering a wave of environmental catastrophes, not to mention a wave of natural disasters, problems with food production and vast destruction to the Earth’s ecosystems. Quite frankly, Earth is facing a climate change disaster.
Where did it all go wrong, you might ask? Well, when the United Nations met at the famous Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, you might have been mistaken in thinking that they would have got on top of the problem, laying out a comprehensive framework to deal with climate change and minimise its impact on our lives. Sadly, they failed miserably. Or at least, the vast majority of the nations involved in the United Nations plan have. Like a shining star, Costa Rica went 100% renewable green energy at the beginning of 2015, putting its larger neighbours to shame. Elsewhere, several Scandinavian countries, including Sweden, Denmark and Finland are targeting to be fossil fuel free by 2030.
Whilst the efforts of these nations is admirable, it is of little consequence on the larger scale. With the world’s two largest polluters, China and the USA, pumping out a combined 14 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year and not making an awful lot of progress to curb their emissions, the future looks bleak. Specifically, a growing number of scientists and politicians realising that there is no way the United Nations will meet their goals of limiting a rise of more than two degrees Celsius . Indeed, with recent studies suggesting this will have occurred by 2030, many are now turning to look at ways in which we might cope in a world in which global warming runs rampant, and are attempting to develop ways to combat the problems that will arise.
So what would a world two degrees warmer look like? Firstly, we’ve already increased by at least one degree since 1880, and this has already seen strain on the environment – namely food and water security, which have been highlighted by the water crisis in California (with mandatory rationing to 75% of previous levels recently being implemented), as well as a rise in the number of natural disasters around the globe. The risk of extreme heatwave in Europe (like those that killed 70,000 people in 2003), is now ten times higher than what it was just a decade ago, and rising fast. Soon, heatwaves could become a regular feature of European summers, posing enormous risk to both people and the environment.
An increase in two degrees would be even more catastrophic, according to Professor Lederman of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change, who suggests cities such as London, New York and Shanghai could have serious issues protecting themselves from rises in sea level of at least five metres. One of the most major and growing concerns is over food production, with many commentators suggesting that food security may well be the main driver of conflict and war in the middle of the 21st century as temperatures soar, killing crops and reducing yields. Compounded by a population explosion, food security has been described as a ‘ticking time bomb’ by independent UN expert Olivier De Schutter.
Add to this the effects to the environment, with many species being unable to adapt quickly to the change in temperature, and we could see the rather alarming prospect of a loss of up to 80% of genetic diversity in some groups of organisms. To put that bluntly, a LOT of species will go extinct, and those that remain will form parts of seriously damaged food chains that may well collapse.
On that rather depressing note, it is perhaps not ideal to hear that this rise of just two degrees may well not be the end of it. The UN have laid out a number of scenarios based on how well its members manage to reach their targets in regard to reducing emissions. A rise of two degrees is now considered to be the best case scenario. A scenario of limited management sees a rise of three degrees peaking in the 2040’s, followed by a slow and gentle decline. Disturbingly, and a scenario that more and more people consider more likely as countries fail to meet their targets is a rise of perhaps four or even higher. The worse scenario sees temperatures continue to rise until at least 2100, and if emissions are not cut substantially at this point, might end up hitting an increase of six, seven or even eight degrees in the century after.
Quite frankly, it is easy to be incredibly scared at these prospects, not least because of the slow progress made by the majority of the United Nations. As we move forward into the middle of the 21st century, it remains to be seen whether or not we successfully tackle climate change, or whether instead, we face inevitable global catastrophe…