Despite all the talk about the need to curb our climate impact, carbon emissions from fossil fuels are set to reach a record high this year. So while 2022 may have resembled the trailer for a disaster movie, some experts believe we may have already bought a ticket for the feature film.
Climate scientist Robert Vautard, head of France's Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute, told Agence France-Presse that "the year 2022 will be one of the hottest years on Earth, with all the phenomena that go with higher temperatures.” Appearing on the year’s highlight reel are record heatwaves which caused lakes to evaporate across Europe and Asia, a catastrophic drought that brought misery to millions in the Horn of Africa, and devastating floods in Pakistan.
"Unfortunately, this is just the beginning," says Vautard.
Looking back over the past 12 months, it’s clear that the warning signs have been getting louder, and some climate scientists believe it may already be too late to save ourselves from disaster. Back in February, for instance, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicated that 42 percent of the world’s population are living in areas deemed “highly vulnerable” to the impacts of climate change.
Commenting on the report, UN secretary-general António Guterres said the globe is now doomed to become an “atlas of suffering”.
In May, meanwhile, research indicated that there is a 48 percent chance that global temperatures will rise to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels within the next five years. This represents the lower acceptable limit of warming established by the Paris Agreement of 2015, which aims to prevent a catastrophic rise of 2°C (3.6°F).
Yet as 2022 dragged on, and the record-breaking northern hemisphere summer came and went, it became ever clearer that the goals identified in Paris are slipping from our grasp. According to a depressing report, The Gambia was the only nation that had actually stuck to its Paris Agreement pledges, before being downgraded recently to 'Almost Sufficient'.
At COP27 in Egypt in November, the UN presented its own findings that there is currently “no credible pathway” in place to limit global warming, as Guterres told delegates that the “1.5°C goal is on life support – and the machines are rattling.”
“We are getting dangerously close to the point of no return,” he said during his opening address.
Then came the news – delivered by the Global Carbon Project – that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are on course to rise by one percent this year, reaching a record high of 36.6 billion tonnes. For the 1.5-degree target to remain viable, global emissions need to fall by 45 percent this decade and reach net zero by 2050, so it’s clear we’re moving in the wrong direction.
If current trends continue, the UN predicts that the world will heat up to between 2.4 and 2.6°C (4.3-4.7°F) above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Should such a temperature rise occur, the climate catastrophes of 2022 will be looked back on as the good old days.
Still, it’s not all doom and gloom, as some progress has been made and there is still time to limit the damage. Earlier this month, 190 countries signed up to a plan called the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which aims to protect 30 percent of the world’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems by 2030.
Sticking to pledges like the GBF could be the key to protecting the climate and preventing further disasters in the future. Over the next 12 months, the commitment of governments and corporations to delivering on these promises will be once again put to the test, not least at COP28, which is set to be hosted by fossil fuel exporting giant the United Arab Emirates.