Think 2C of global warming wouldn’t be bad? Think again – leader comment

The Gospers Mountain Fire rips through a building in Bilpin, New South Wales, last month (Picture: Dan Himbrechts/AAP Images via AP)
The Gospers Mountain Fire rips through a building in Bilpin, New South Wales, last month (Picture: Dan Himbrechts/AAP Images via AP)
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After the warmest decade on record, humanity must stop the rise of global temperatures to avoid catastrophic consequences like 37 per cent of the entire world’s population experiencing severe heatwaves on a regular basis.

In yet another sign that climate change is real, happening right now and a problem we must take much more seriously than we currently are, three major scientific organisations have concluded that the last decade was the warmest on record.

The world’s average temperature in each of the last five years was more than one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To some, this may not sound like much, but the effects have already been profound.

For example, the US Glacier National Park once used to have some 150 glaciers, but is now down to less than 30 of significant size. The famously impassable ‘Northwest Passage’ over the north of Canada claimed the lives of scores of 19th century explorers looking for a shorter sea route between Europe and the Far East as they became trapped in the ice. In 2013, the first freighter sailed through and in 2016 a cruise ship made the journey.

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And while Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, has recently been under water amid major floods, parts of Australia has been devastated by wildfires that have sent vast clouds of smoke and dust into the air.

The famous US climate scientist Professor Michael Mann, currently on sabbatical in Australia, told Reuters that it was “conceivable that much of Australia simply becomes too hot and dry for human habitation”, adding that “we could well see Australians join the ranks of the world’s climate refugees”.

So we should be concerned about the effects of one degree of global warming and we must increase our efforts to stop the rise in temperatures. For, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, at 1.5C of warming it is estimated that about 14 per cent of world’s population will experience severe heatwaves at least once every five years; at 2C, the figure is 37 per cent with heatwaves in India and Pakistan like the one that killed thousands of people in 2015 potentially happening every year.

In the oceans, coral reefs – a vital habitat for many forms of marine life – are expected to be virtually wiped out as a result of the warmer water, ocean acidification and more severe storms of a 2c world.

Droughts, fires and floods – how many more plagues of biblical proportions will it take before we demand serious action from our political leaders? Later this year in Glasgow, world leaders will gather for a climate summit that it is already clear will be of historic importance, one way or the other.