Climate change: Fossil fuels are set to make 2020 the warmest year on record as oil industry keeps expanding – Dr Richard Dixon

Last week it was announced that last month was the warmest November humanity has ever experienced. It was also confirmed that 2020 is heading towards being the warmest year on record.

The Ineos oil refinery at Grangemouth (Picture: Michael Gillen)

Scotland’s weather has been less remarkable, probably because we are cushioned from some of the change by the weakening of warm ocean currents in the North Atlantic.

Nonetheless, January was the fourth warmest January and November the fifth warmest November in the Scottish temperature record, which goes back to 1884. February was the second wettest February and April was the sunniest and third driest April.

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the grouping of the world’s top climate science experts, produced a report in 2018 showing how much worse a global temperature rise of 2C would be than a rise of 1.5C – the targets in the 2015 Paris Agreement. This report was widely interpreted to mean we had a decade to really turn things around and keep below 1.5C.

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Last week some new analysis by Carbon Brief looked at when the latest computer models tell us we will hit 1.5C on current trends. The answers cover a range of assumptions about how quickly emissions are reduced but the mid-range estimate was a sobering 2031 or so, although it could be as early as 2026 or as late as 2042. On the same basis, we would hit 2C in about 2043, although it could be as early as 2034.

We have been over 1C for some time. Despite this weekend’s ‘Climate Ambition Summit’ hosted by the UK government, we are currently heading for a catastrophic 3 or 4C, but even at 1.5C people die, livelihoods are wiped out, island nations drown and species go extinct.

Of course, 1.5C by 2031 doesn’t mean we can carry on as we are until 2030 and then get a bit more serious about emissions, because greenhouse gases hang about for ages doing their evil work.

The carbon dioxide you cause to end up in the atmosphere today – through your food choices, heating systems, transport use, etc – will be increasing the temperature of the planet for decades, even hundreds of years.

So, despite agreeing we all really ought to do something with the Earth Summit of 1992, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and the Paris Agreement of 2015, how come we are still rushing headlong to disaster?

A large part of the answer is in another recent report, the UN Environment Programme’s annual look at the biggest oil-producing countries plans for producing fossil fuels.

Despite the world’s nations signing up to try to keep the temperature rise below 1.5C, which would mean reducing fossil fuel use by at least six per cent a year, the oil-producing nations collectively plan to increase production by two per cent a year. By 2030 they will have extracted twice as much coal, oil and gas as the 1.5C limit can stand and 50 per cent more than needed to make us cruise on past 2C.

The temperature records continue to tumble and the key tipping points for our planet’s climate are racing towards us and it is our total failure to rapidly set the fossil fuel industry on a phase-out path that is to blame.

Dr Richard Dixon is director of Friends of the Earth Scotland

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