‘We are last generation who can stop dangerous climate change’

The Grangemouth oil refinery. (Picture: Ian Rutherford)
The Grangemouth oil refinery. (Picture: Ian Rutherford)
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As the World Meteorological Organization reveals this year is set to be the fourth warmest on record in its provisional State of the Climate in 2018 statement, the WMO’s Clare Nullis warns we are the last generation that will be able to prevent dangerous global warming and time is running out.

The annual United Nations climate change negotiations start in Poland on 2 December. A number of reports have been issued ahead of that meeting to highlight the urgency of climate action. Now.

We are the first generation to fully understand climate change and the last generation to be able to do something about it.

Greenhouse gases, which are trapping heat in the atmosphere and driving climate change, are at record highs. Of particular concern is that new emissions of carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas – are heading in the wrong direction and have increased after a three-year period of stability.

CO2 stays in the atmosphere and in the oceans for centuries. It is not something which disappears within a few years. And there is currently no magic bullet to remove it from the atmosphere.

This means that our planet faces a much warmer future, our oceans will continue to heat and become more acidic. Sea ice and glacier melt will continue, contributing to sea level rise which impacts coastal communities. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture and this extra energy translates into more extreme weather.

The long-term warming trend has continued in 2018, with the average global temperature set to be the fourth highest on record. The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the top four in the past four years, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

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The global average temperature for the first ten months of the year was nearly one degree Celsius above the pre-industrial baseline of 1850 to 1900. For reference, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change aims to hold the global average temperature increase to as close as possible to 1.5C.

It is clear that we are not on track to meet climate change targets. If the current trend continues, we may see temperature increases of three to five Celsius by the end of the century. If we exploit all known fossil fuel resources, the temperature rise will be considerably higher.

These are more than just numbers.

Every fraction of a degree of warming makes a difference to human health and access to food and fresh water, to the extinction of animals and plants, to the survival of coral reefs and marine life.

It makes a difference to economic productivity, food security, and to the resilience of our infrastructure and cities. It makes a difference to the speed of glacier melt and water supplies, and the future of low-lying islands and coastal communities. Every extra bit matters.

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