As the year began, vast tracts of Australia were burning, Jakarta was under water, while Norway recorded its warmest January day ever.
Extreme weather events have long been forecast as the result of global climate change, caused by emissions of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.
What’s happening now is the result of a 0.9C increase in global temperatures that has already occurred since pre-industrial times. If that rises to 2C, as it is set to do without rapid action to cut emissions, the results will be much worse. This is a climate crisis, and risks becoming a climate “apocalypse”.
“Averting a Climate Apocalypse” is one of the main sessions at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting at Davos this month, where delegates will seek ways to avert a full-blown catastrophe.
We know the problem. So what are the solutions?
The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2), a byproduct of burning fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – which have locked vast amounts of carbon away since prehistoric times. A move away from these fuels has been dubbed the energy transition – a shift to relying on other forms of energy, including renewables like wind and solar power.
But with ever-increasing demand for energy, can the transition happen quickly enough to avert a climate disaster? Despite record amounts of renewable energy, global CO2 emissions surged by 0.6% in 2019.
The answers will also include a focus on energy efficiency, changes to the way we produce and consume goods and finding ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Much of the change will be driven by political decisions, as governments seek to fulfill pledges they made under the Paris Agreement. Signatory countries will have to show each other – and their citizens – what progress they have made at a climate conference in Glasgow in December, five years on from the Paris deal.
And despite the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the deal, many major US companies are taking steps to curb their emissions.
Follow the money
Writing for the World Economic Forum, veteran climate campaigner Jennifer Morgan says the worlds of business and finance are heading for another crash if they don’t make big changes on the climate.
“We need $90 trillion over the next 10 years to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Yet fossil fuels still attract nearly three times more subsidies than climate solutions,” writes Morgan, Executive Director at Greenpeace.
“To continue financing fossil fuel expansion is today’s equivalent of betting the bank – and the global economy – on subprime mortgage-backed securities over a decade ago; it is fuelling a crisis that, even if it generates short-term profit, will inevitably cause economic catastrophe alongside the climate emergency.”