Let’s go back in time. The date is January 1, 2010 – the beginning of a new decade. The 2000-2009 decade (the 2000s) that just ended was “the warmest on record, with its average global surface temperature about 0.54 °C (0.96 °F) above the 20th Century average, easily surpassing the 1990s value of 0.36 °C (0.65 °F),” according to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). It was a jump of 18 points.
And now, the 2010s are behind us. And during that decade, global heating accelerated at an even faster rate than ever before. “The January–November 2019 global land and ocean surface temperature was 0.94°C (1.69°F) above average and the second warmest such period since global records began in 1880,” reports NOAA. It jumped 40 points compared to the previous decade. As Greta Thunberg often reminds us, “our house is on fire.”
The Most Devastating Decade Yet
In a recent article, WIRED magazine identified ten facts that show the 2010s as the worst decade yet. Following are the more notable ones.
“The last decade will be recorded as one of unprecedented and unheard-of heat around the globe — the hottest ever. “Temperatures for the years from 2010 to 2019 were about 1.1C above the average for the pre-industrial period, showing how close the world is coming to the 1.5C of warming that scientists say will cause dramatic impacts, extreme weather and the loss of vital ecosystems,” writes Fiona Harvey in The Guardian.
As was 2019, the forecast for 2020 is to also be another “warmest” year on record according to the Met Office.
Carbon Dioxide Levels
The 2019 UN Emissions Gap Report shows that “we are on the brink of missing the 1.5°C target and condemning humanity to a future of serious climate change impacts.”
CO² levels were around 390 ppm at the start of the 2010s — 388.71 ppm in January of 2010. The level in November of 2019 was 410.27 ppm, a rise of over 5.5% since the beginning of the decade. C0² levels have risen by over 11% since the turn of the century. I was born at roughly 300-310 ppm. The increase in my own lifetime is a whopping 32%.
And yet the world continues to dump carbon into our atmosphere at an alarming rate. “The amount of carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels is forecast to hit 37 billion tons this year, a record high,” reports WIRED. During the 2020s, the call for a lower carbon future must be replaced by the call for zero carbon by 2050. Or it’s nothing at all.
Lack of Political Will
A the recent COP 26 in Madrid, UN secretary general, António Guterres lamented how world leaders are lacking the political will to prevent runaway climate change. He warned that though the technology and economic means to fight climate chaos are available, the world will fail unless climate ambition and climate resolve rise to match the magnitude of the challenge humanity faces.
The technologies that are necessary to make this possible are already available. Signals of hope are multiplying. Public opinion is waking up everywhere. Young people are showing remarkable leadership and mobilisation. [But we need] political will to put a price on carbon, political will to stop subsidies on fossil fuels [and start] taxing pollution instead of people. — Antonio Guterres
We Keep Missing Opportunities
“We need to close the ‘commitment’ gap between what we say we will do and what we need to do to prevent dangerous levels of climate change. Governments…and people cannot afford to wait. — UN Emissions Gap Report, 2019
In 2015, the signatories of the Paris Agreement committed to nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to reduce greenhouse gases by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The recent Madrid climate talks “were supposed to deliver a clear, resounding call for more ambitious emissions targets and financing for climate vulnerable countries already experiencing the devastating impacts of the climate crisis. Negotiators were supposed to deliver strong rules for carbon markets that would uphold the environmental integrity of the Paris Agreement and safeguard human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Catherine Abreu in a media release. None of that occurred as the talks ended in abject failure.
We must take every opportunity to isolate the fossil fuel industry as the principal cause of failed climate talks. Starting with COP 26, only 11 months away, organizers must ensure that fossils are banned from attending official discussions and prevented from lurking in the hallways and the backrooms — with the sole purpose of disrupting progress on climate action. That is why COPs have failed to curb global warming. And that is why we now have a climate emergency. COP 26 will also fail unless the fossil fuel industry is locked out.
As the 2010s came to a close, a number of milestone reports shows that the 2020s will be the ‘make it or break it’ decade in our fight to tackle climate change. Simply living up to our Paris Agreement commitments will not nearly be enough. We must address “the commitment gap”.
- IPCC Special Report on global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, November 2018.
- UN Special Report on Biodiversity and Species Extinction, May 2019.
- IPCC Climate Change and Land Report, 2019
- Canada’s Changing Climate Report, July 2019.
- US Fourth National Climate Assessment Report, 2018
We Didn’t Sign Up for this
Climate change is no longer just a distant threat. It’s no longer abstract. And we can’t just look away. The 2010s have changed that.
As I get ready to step into the climate fights of the next decade, I’m making room for inspiration, for a post-hope kind of resilience that can keep me sane. Looking ahead to the 2020s, I find comfort in quoting Finnish-born Erika Spanger-Siegfried (a senior analyst in the Climate and Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists) whose narrative on hope is nothing short of miraculous. She says that “the fight we signed up for is now the fight for what’s left and the people who get left with it. That’s all, really. But it’s also everything. And you, my weary friend, will never stop.”
Each of us working to add our small piece to the whole, many of us weary of all this but cloaked in our miraculous hope, where despair can touch us but it can’t hold us for long, because we love and therefore we hope. And because this fight is far from over. It starts new each day. — Erika Spanger-Siegfried
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