The climate abyss
The recently released 'State of Global Climate' report confirms that 2020 was indeed the second-hottest year on record, just behind 2016 and ahead of 2019. There is some debate over whether 2019 was actually hotter than 2020 but it is a moot point here. Either way 2020 was a hot year. Global average temperatures for the previous year were 1.2 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels. The report broadly makes the point that in various ways, we are running out of time, a common enough warning in climate change discourse. It was a year of unnatural weather. The Arctic experienced particularly warm temperatures last year. The ice cover for the region, an important indicator for climate change, stood at the second-lowest extent since modern record-keeping for the same began in the late 1970s. 2020 also saw the highest temperature recorded in any region of the world in the last 80 years when Death Valley in California recorded a temperature of 54.4 degrees celsius. Then there are the carbon emissions. 2020 was supposed to have some kind of silver lining to it in the form of a substantial if a brief dip in carbon emissions as industries, airlines, vehicles, etc., all grinded to a halt during the lockdown. Carbon emissions worldwide dropped by as much as 17 per cent during the lockdown. But as many could predict, the rebound from the ongoing economic recovery has taken a severe toll. Indeed, the International Energy Agency has predicted that there is actually a 4.6 per cent increase in energy demand this year, 0.5 per cent higher than pre-pandemic 2020. The jump in carbon dioxide emissions alone would see the second-highest rise in emissions ever recorded. The IEA has noted that this is when transportation is still yet to return to pre-pandemic levels and that carbon emissions will go up another 1.5 per cent as demand returns. So, 2020 didn't help out with emissions either. What else? Well, there are the disasters. Overall figures are hard to arrive at but natural disasters did cost the global insurance industry $ 89 billion in 2020. This is just the insured losses with no mention of how much such disasters overall tax the global economy. The State of the Global Climate report did mention that Cyclone Amphan, which made landfall near the India-Bangladesh border last year, was the costliest tropical cyclone on record for the North Indian Ocean. The cyclone reportedly caused around $ 14 billion worth of economic losses in India. The report also notes that India had two of the wettest monsoon seasons since 1994 last year which resulted in flooding and landslides. The report, in short, confirms what many of us already knew. That 2020 was a year of absolute unmitigated disasters. It also asserts that 2020 was likely just a warning of times to come. The UN has estimated that it would take at least a 45 per cent drop in emissions between 2020 and 2030 to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees celsius. But the post-pandemic recovery cycle is already proving this to be an unlikely proposition. The rebound caused by the shutdown is likely to increase reliance on emission heavy energy sources. Reuters only recently released a report that claimed India was considering the construction and renovation of gas and coal-fired plants to continue to provide 'flexibility' to its energy production as it tries to shift towards renewables. While this is a practical consideration no doubt, it's also a risky one. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), which is responsible for the report, believes there is a chance that we will breach the 1.5-degree Celsius temperature increase threshold as early as 2024. The risks of breaching that mark are significant, as the UN has predicted that around 420 million people could be immediately affected by the heat waves alone, not to mention changes in the ecosystem, increased natural disasters and the messy politics of climate change migration which will soon pop up. UN Secretary Guterres believes that humanity is on the verge of the abyss. He believes that there isn't enough being done or enough urgency in regards to the dire predicament we find ourselves in. He may be right but he also acknowledges that the level of action now required goes far beyond the well-meaning pet projects of the past. There is a drastic need to rework the way our world works, our economy, our way of life down to how we eat and grow our food. This is a long-haul process with no room for half measures and deferred deadlines. Climate change is already knocking and 2020 was just a taste of what is to come if more is not done soon.