Climate Change in the Wake of 2020
2020 tied with 2016 for the hottest year in recorded history.
In January of 2021, we find ourselves limping slowly from the wreckage of 2020, surveying the aftermath with bleary eyes. One crucial piece of debris, unearthed by the Copernicus, the EU's Earth Observation Program, is that 2020 tied with 2016 for the hottest year in recorded history.
This little morsel of hindsight is presented to us just 5 years after the Paris Climate Agreement—wherein nearly 200 nations came together to assume responsibility for the present and future of our climate. These nations recognized climate change as a tangible threat to our planet and our species. Furthermore, these nations agreed that global warming could be prevented if they worked together to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C (relative to pre-industrial temperatures). Each nation created its own action plan and agreed to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 2030.
2015 Paris Climate Agreement is insufficient to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
On the surface, the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement was a moment of great hope. Upon deeper inspection, however, a 2019 report by the Universal Ecological Fund found that 70% of nations that signed the Paris Climate Agreement had created "insufficient" action plans. In other words, these plans are unable to meet the global demands for emission reduction; combined, they fall short of the objective of reducing total emissions by 50% over the next decade. This EUF report furthers that several nations are not on track to meet even these meager goals and that the U.S.—a top contributor to global emissions—has backed out of its pledge altogether.
Our current trajectory will lead to temperature increase of 1.5°C by 2030.
Unsurprisingly, greenhouse gas emissions in the last five years have risen far above projected levels for sustainability. According to a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), our current emissions trajectory will lead to an increase of 1.5°C by 2030.
Until recently, the consequences of global warming have been disproportionately severe for developing countries that lack the infrastructure to handle the onslaught of environmental changes. These incommensurate effects have historically made the urgency of climate change difficult to convey to the developed world.
This is no longer the case.
Fires raged throughout 2020, from Australia to South America to the U.S. coast where California endured its worst fire season ever recorded. As reported by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA), “Twenty-two separate billion-dollar disasters were identified during 2020, breaking the previous record of 16 set in 2011 and matched in 2017.”
If 2020 has taught us one thing, it is that climate change is not a remote matter for some soggy polar bears to suffer alone. We no longer have the luxury of indifference; the consequences are real and they are here. As the consequences of global warming become more ubiquitous, denial and indifference throughout the developing world become less plausible. We are simply running out of time. As Gulnaz Khan aptly states in his Ideas.Ted.com article, "...our window of opportunity to take decisive action is shrinking."
Not all is lost. According to the leader of the Paris Climate Agreement, we can still change course.
Leader of the Paris Climate Agreement, Christina Figueres, urges listeners of her 2020 Ted Talk, The case for Stubborn Optimism on Climate Change, that “[if] we continue on the current path, we condemn our children…to a world that is increasingly uninhabitable, with exponentially growing levels of disease, famine, and conflict.”
However, Figueres' speech is not one of condemnation or mere alarmism; instead, it is an argument for "stubborn optimism." She implores her audience not to become despondent or indifferent towards this environmental crisis. The Costa Rican diplomat argues that there is still time to change our course, reduce emissions, and prevent unstable temperature increases. To achieve this, Figueres believes it is vital that we maintain ardor in the face of adversity. As she puts it, "we don't have the right to give up or let up."
To find out the latest data on climate change, visit The International Governmental Panel on Climate Change.