Thursday, June 20, 2024

Human-Caused Warming Reaches New Highs Even As Climate Action Slows Emissions: Report

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A new report reveals that human-induced warming has risen to 1.19 degrees Celsius over the past decade, highlighting the urgent need for action as natural climate variability and consistent greenhouse gas emissions push global temperatures to record highs.

The University of Leeds’ second annual Indicators of Global Climate Change report highlights an alarming rise in human-induced warming, which has climbed to 1.19 degrees Celsius over the past decade. This marks an increase from the 1.14 degrees Celsius reported in the previous time period. The report comes as climate experts gather in Bonn to lay the groundwork for the COP29 climate conference, scheduled for November in Baku, Azerbaijan.

In 2023 alone, human activities contributed to 1.3 degrees Celsius of warming, the report notes. However, the total warming experienced in 2023 reached 1.43 degrees Celsius, indicating that natural climate variability, particularly the El Niño phenomenon, also played a significant role in last year’s record temperatures.

The report reveals that the remaining carbon budget — the amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted before we reach 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming — is around 200 gigatonnes (billion tonnes), equivalent to about five years of current emissions.

The global carbon budget

In 2020, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated the remaining carbon budget for 1.5 degrees Celsius to be between 300 and 900 gigatonnes, with a central estimate of 500 gigatonnes. With ongoing CO2 emissions and rising global temperatures, the remaining carbon budget for 1.5 degrees Celsius at the start of 2024 is between 100 and 450 gigatonnes, with a central estimate of 200 gigatonnes.

Plumes of smoke.
Image courtesy Pixabay

Professor Piers Forster, who leads the Indicators of Global Climate Change Project and is the Director of the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures at the University of Leeds, commented, “Our analysis shows that the level of global warming caused by human action has continued to increase over the past year, even though climate action has slowed the rise in greenhouse gas emissions. Global temperatures are still heading in the wrong direction and faster than ever before.”

Professor Forster emphasized that their analysis tracks long-term trends caused by human activities, influenced by shorter-term natural variations. He noted, “Observed temperatures are a product of this long-term trend modulated by shorter-term natural variations. Last year, when observed temperature records were broken, these natural factors were temporarily adding around ten percent to the long-term warming.”

While the IPCC remains the leading source of scientific information on climate, its next major assessment will not occur until around 2027. This creates an “information gap” as climate indicators are rapidly changing. The new report includes an open data, open science platform — the Climate Change Tracker’s Indicators of Global Climate Change dashboard — which offers updated information on key climate indicators.

An airplane flies over Recife, Brazil.
An airplane flies over Recife, Brazil. | Photo courtesy David Emrich

The latest Indicator report, published by over 50 scientists in the journal Earth System Science Data, also sheds light on the effects of reduced sulfur emissions from the global shipping industry. Sulfur helps cool the climate by reflecting sunlight back into space and forming more reflective clouds. However, ongoing reductions in sulfur emissions have diminished this cooling effect. Although Canadian wildfire aerosol emissions offset this effect last year, the long-term trend indicates a continued decline in the cooling influence of aerosol emissions.

Key findings include the rise in human-induced warming to 1.19 degrees Celsius over the past decade, an increase from 1.14 degrees Celsius in the previous decade. Human-induced warming has been increasing at an unprecedented rate of approximately 0.26 degrees Celsius per decade over 2014-2023. This high rate of warming results from consistently high greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to 53 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, and improvements in air quality that reduce human-caused cooling from atmospheric particles. High greenhouse gas emission levels are also disrupting the Earth’s energy balance, with ocean buoys and satellites tracking unprecedented heat flows into the Earth’s oceans, ice caps, soils, and atmosphere, which are 50 percent higher than the long-term average.

We need to build more resilient societies.

-Professor Piers Forster

Professor Forster highlighted the importance of reducing fossil fuel emissions. “Fossil fuel emissions are around 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and clearly the main driver of climate change, but other sources of pollution from cement production, farming, and deforestation and cuts to the level of sulfur emissions are also contributing to warming,” he said, adding that rapidly reducing emissions of greenhouse gases towards net zero will limit the level of global warming we ultimately experience. “At the same time, we need to build more resilient societies. The devastation wrought by wildfires, drought, flooding, and heat waves the world saw in 2023 must not become the new normal.”

The report aims to inform new Nationally Determined Contributions, the improved climate plans that every country has pledged to submit to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by 2025 to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts.

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