Climate change: 3rd degree burns

Andreas Wilson-Späth

If there’s one number we’ve heard about endlessly in connection with the climate change debate it’s this: 2oC. That, the experts have told us, is the amount of atmospheric warming (compared to average temperatures in pre-industrial times) that would offer us a half decent chance of avoiding some of the more nasty and long-term consequences of global warming (many climate activists and some developing countries have actually been calling for a safer 1.5oC maximum temperature rise).

It’s also the number that most of the world’s governments have latched onto, supposedly committing themselves to a variety of ways of cutting their carbon emission in order to restrict warming to below 2oC.

With the next international global warming talk shop, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, just around the corner, how good are our chances of actually making the 2oC target?

Not very good, I’m afraid.

In October, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre released a policy brief which shows that on the basis of the emission reduction commitments that member countries have so far submitted to the UNFCCC ahead of COP21 (the official term for these is ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ or INDCs), we can expect a temperature rise not of 2oC, but of 3oC by the end of the century. And that’s only if all of the promises are actually implemented fully and successfully.

While some progress is being made – if nobody were to do anything different and we all carried on with business as usual, we’d be heading for a 4.5 to 5 degree warming – the report notes, more drastic measures than those currently on the table are necessary to stay below the 2oC mark. The UNFCCC has come to similar conclusions.

Now you might think that a one degree difference isn’t a big deal, but as Tim Gore of Oxfam has pointed out, the carbon reduction pledges offered by countries until now “only take us from a four degree catastrophe to a three degree disaster”. Many experts predict that a 3oC increase would result in us exceeding a tipping point beyond which reversing the impacts of climate change would be very difficult or impossible. The outcomes would include an increase in the speed at which glaciers and the polar ice caps are melting along with a substantial rise in sea levels, as well as more frequent and severe droughts, floods, wildfires and storms.

There is mounting evidence that this intensification process is already under way. A new report published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society suggests that of 28 extreme weather events studied around the world in 2014, at least 14 were influenced by climate changing human activities.

Putting our hopes on the negotiators who’ll be meeting at COP21 in Paris seems naive. So with 2015 tipped to become the hottest year in recorded history, I guess we’d all do well to start getting used to the rising mercury and its consequences.

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

Send your comments to Andreas

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
Is social media doing more harm than good?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes, our children are exposed and we can't protect them
49% - 5982 votes
Yes, but social media is part of the new reality
45% - 5495 votes
No, it's great for growing a child's world view
5% - 632 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
14.11
+0.2%
Rand - Pound
19.80
+0.3%
Rand - Euro
17.03
+0.2%
Rand - Aus dollar
10.88
+0.4%
Rand - Yen
0.13
+0.1%
Gold
1,811.88
-0.2%
Silver
26.81
-0.7%
Palladium
2,853.71
-0.2%
Platinum
1,206.00
-0.7%
Brent Crude
69.32
+1.1%
Top 40
59,669
-3.0%
All Share
65,431
-3.0%
Resource 10
68,493
-4.4%
Industrial 25
81,803
-2.3%
Financial 15
12,466
-1.4%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo