The current condition of the Planet and the future sceneries described by the many scientific reports presented at the XIV UN Conference on Climate Change (COP24) are shanking and perhaps embarrassing the delegates in Katowice. The main goal of the COP24 is to define the rules that will make the Paris Agreement operational and, even more specifically, to fix the parameters that will grant operational transparency and determine the adaptation policies of every State, the reduction of greenhouse gasses emissions, the granting of funds, the technologic transfer.
However, the feeling is that the scientific reports illustrated by the experts have shifted the focus of the Conference: time is running out. The speed at which global warming goes and the slowness of the international community’s response to it are reducing the chances of reaching the goal set in the Paris Agreement. They also worsen the negative impacts of climate change on the ecosystem and human life.
The provisional report on the global state of climate change produced by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) foresees that the year 2018 is going to be the fourth hottest year since the start of their observations. The minimal extension of the glaciers in the Arctic Sea, reached in September, is 28% lower than the average. In the same way, the area covered by the Antarctic marine glacier has been lower than the average for the whole 2018.
The consequences of extreme meteorological events have been several this year. Just like in 2017, we have lost human lives and witnessed huge damages to both ecosystems and infrastructures. Many countries in Europe have suffered from an exceptional heat wave and drought during spring and summer. Death and damages have been brought about by the biggest flood the Indian State of Kerala has experienced since 1924 and by the rising waters in Japan, where more than 100 mm of rain have poured down in only 48 hours on Shihoku Island. Fires devastated Greece in July and California in November.
In October, Italy was hit by exceptional storms and winds which have caused great damages, especially to the forests in the Northern part of the country. Warning signs also come from the measurements of the main greenhouse gasses concentration in the atmosphere, which has been on the rise since 2017. Carbon dioxide has already reached the alarming value of 405,5 parts per million, but the 2018 surveys foresee that it will hit the 407 parts per millions by the end of the year. That means that the atmosphere now contains 45% more CO2 than it did in pre-industrial times.
According to the Global Carbon Budget study, the 2018 emissions of carbon will reach an all-time high. And they will continue to rise by more than 2% higher because of the carbon consumption in the energy sector and the greater consumption of oil and gas in the transportation sector and in the construction industry.
The major emitters of 2018 are still China (27%), the US (15%), the EU (10%) and India (7%). Almost all countries in the world have contributed to climate change and global warming through increased greenhouse gasses emissions and through the slower reduction of said emissions. But good examples exist since some states were able to reduce their emissions by maintaining, at the same time, a booming economy, as it happened in many European countries.
To contain global warming within the limit of +1.5° C as set in the Paris Agreement, CO2 emissions should halve by 2030 and disappear altogether by 2050. We are very far from achieving these results.
According to the Emissions Gap Report, the current voluntary commitments taken by each country to reduce greenhouse gasses emissions are insufficient. If nothing changes, it seems unavoidable that the global temperature will increase by 3°C by the end of the century with unimaginable consequences for the Planet. It is estimated that we need to triplicate the efforts to stop the global temperature form rising more than 2°C, and to quadruplicate them to stop it from rising more than 1,5°C.
The mission seems impossible, but positive signals are there. Energy trends are changing fast: a lot of countries are consuming less CO2 and more wind and solar energy. Even if this means that the CO2 consumption is still lower than it was in 2013 (when it hit an all-time high), more needs to be done in order to improve the situation. There is still time to face climate change and its consequences, if the reduction of CO2 emissions becomes a process that involves quickly and drastically all economic sectors. We need courageous and firm political decisions and a strong economic support to transition to cleaner energy sources and to reduce emissions. We as citizens need to cooperate with governments and private industries, as saving the Planet entails adopting a brand-new production and consumption paradigm. We will monitor every move of the countries at the COP24 to try to understand if they are ready to change the course of history.