Climate change is transforming the global climate system before our eyes. More heat is being trapped as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere. Seas are warming and rising faster while glaciers are melting at a pace many researchers did not expect for decades. It’s also predicted that the Arctic may see ice-free summers by the 2030s due to the rapid decline of sea ice in the region.
“Things are getting worse,” said Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization. “It’s more urgent than ever to proceed with mitigation.”
Global Climate is Changing Faster
History can show how the global climate is changing faster now than it has at any point in the past 2,000 years. Atmospheric CO2, for instance, has grown at an explosive rate since 1850—close to what mathematicians call “exponential.” Likewise, the human population and fossil fuel emissions accelerated simultaneously.
According to Time, an American weekly news magazine and news website, that volume of CO2 in the atmosphere increased by 315 parts per million (ppm) in 1958 to 410 ppm last 2019. Scientists forecast that this will double, putting our planet at C02 levels not seen for 35 million years. This is due to the combination of industrial emissions and huge volumes of ancient greenhouse gases rising from melting permafrost.
A 2019 study published in the journals Nature and Nature Geoscience revealed that none of the past fluctuations over the past two millennia had the global reach that modern climate change is having. The researchers found out that almost every part of the planet had its hottest decades in the past 2,000 years. To come to these conclusions, the team used nearly 700 records from the so-called PAGES 2k proxy temperature database to develop a rigorous picture of global temperatures over the past 2,000 years.
The database, which includes evidence from ice cores, trees, coral, and other substances, was used to create a detailed map of climate fluctuations. "Two-fifths of the planet was subjected to the coldest weather during the mid-nineteenth century, but the deepest chill occurred several centuries earlier in other regions. And even at the height of the Medieval Climate Anomaly, only 40% of Earth’s surface reached peak temperatures at the same time. Using the same metrics, global warming today is unparalleled: for 98% of the planet's surface, the warmest period of the Common Era occurred in the late twentieth century,” Scott St. George, a climate researcher at the University of Minnesota, said.
The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) state of the global climate report said that this decade will almost certainly be the warmest decade on record. This is because the second half of the decade was much warmer than the first, with global temperatures averaged over the second half about 0.2 degrees Celsius (about 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher. “All the time we’re breaking records in temperatures,” Taalas said.
2020 is a Critical Year
Last year, many scientists warned of the worst impacts of climate that we are already experiencing and we are about to experience if we don’t address those issues. According to The New York Times, an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership, scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and other institutions warned that the acceleration of ice loss and other effects of climate change have brought the world “dangerously close” to abrupt and irreversible changes.
Before the opening of 2019’s UN’s annual climate conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that the societal toll of these impacts is also accelerating. “Climate-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent, more deadly, more destructive, with growing human and financial costs,” he said.
People should also expect the worst this year. Recent reports showed that the first few months of 2020 have either broken historic monthly records or come close. January 2020 was the warmest January on record, while February 2020 was the second hottest such month on record. According to EU Copernicus, the European Union's climate monitoring agency reported that March 2020 was “on par” with the second and third warmest Marches on record. With these records, many scientists are anticipating that 2020 will end up as one of the warmest years on record.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that there’s a 98% chance that 2020 will become one of the top five warmest years ever recorded. "The continued onslaught of record and near-record global temperatures is a reminder that, while we’re understandably preoccupied with another crisis (the Coronavirus pandemic), a more formidable one in the grand schemes of things looms in the background," climate scientist Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, said.
Scientists also said that the COVID-19 pandemic will not help in solving climate change as it is not enough to slow the continued rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. The slowdown brought by the lockdowns won't reverse Earth's warming trend. Humanity has loaded the atmosphere with an enormous "pile" of CO2 for the last 150 years or so. Thus, even by the global recession, this pile won’t be diminished.
"Even as the pandemic grips the globe, the climate crisis remains unrelenting, with the recent record or near-record temperatures signaling the onset of what might turn out to be the warmest year ever without the extra warming boost of an El Niño," Jon Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan, said.
To undo the most extreme scenarios of climate change, scientists said that 2020 must be the year for coordinated, comprehensive climate action. According to World Wildlife (WWF), there’s still a gap between what countries pledged to do in the Paris Climate Agreement’s goals and what scientists say is needed to avert climate catastrophe. Scientists warn that if we don’t deliver more aggressive targets, it will be nearly impossible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
There is certainly good news that gives hope such as countries working with national leaders to back up climate pledges, and experts say that this is major worldwide action on climate change. Thus, any efforts to undermine climate and conservation activities, including the US Pres. Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, will be a huge setback.