Friday, June 21, 2024

Boiling point

The ongoing spell of heavy rainfall should not act as a smokescreen. The relatively temporary respite it offers from the scorching heat is exactly that: temporary. It was only a week ago that we were being baked. Global temperatures are scaling new heights, so are our collective sufferings. Punishing, deadly heat has hit large swathes of the planet, and oceans are experiencing heat waves with surface temperatures hitting new highs. The long-predicted hotter future fuelled by climate change is happening now and the warning is even clearer: brace yourself. The recent statements from the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, serve as a stark reminder of the climate catastrophe that is unfolding right before our eyes. With July 2023 declared to be the hottest month in the last 12,000 years, we are witnessing the shift from a mere warming phase to an ‘era of global boiling’. The consequences of this rapid and unprecedented rise in temperatures are already wreaking havoc across the globe. Scientific evidence, as reported by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, highlights the alarming conditions we face today. The average July temperature soared to 16.95° Celsius, surpassing the record set in 2019. With ocean temperatures on the rise and the transition from La Niña to El Niño conditions, the stage was set for temperatures to soar even higher. The impact of this extreme heat is far-reaching and devastating. In nature, everything is interconnected and none are safe from the impact. From wildfires in Greece to scorching temperatures in the United States’ southwest and northwest China touching a staggering 52° C, communities around the world are facing life-threatening challenges. Even regions experiencing heavy rainfall, like north and western India, are not exempt. The increased warmth in the air allows it to hold more moisture, leading to intense and destructive torrential bursts that cause floods and devastation. Again, it serves well to remind ourselves that the consequences of excessive heat are not limited to environmental disasters alone. The human toll is immense, with estimates suggesting over five million people could die each year globally due to extreme heat or cold. The BBC series Life at 50 degrees has vividly illustrated the underreported heat-related deaths and distress. Heat-waves can lead to heat exhaustion and heatstroke, endangering lives and straining healthcare systems. But it’s not just human lives at stake; businesses and economies are vulnerable as well. Extreme heat poses financial risks, including production losses, food supply disruptions, supply chain breakdowns, job losses and overall economic instability. The situation demands immediate attention and action on a global scale. While the projections are definitely grim, there is still hope. The UN Secretary-General emphasises that limiting global temperature rise to 1.5° C and avoiding the worst of climate change is still possible, but it requires “dramatic, immediate climate action”. The responsibility lies with Governments and industries to act urgently and decisively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The G-20 ministerial meet in Chennai and the COP28 President-designate have called for greater ambition in emission cuts. This pressure must extend to all nations and there will be a focus on countries like India to take on a greater share of greenhouse gas mitigation responsibilities. The urgency of the situation necessitates accelerating net-zero commitments, aiming for fossil-free electricity generation by 2040 instead of 2070. Climate negotiations are crucial, but time may not be on our side. The Earth’s climate waits for nobody. Each passing day without significant action further exacerbates the crisis. Governments, businesses and individuals must unite in their efforts to combat climate change and protect our planet for future generations. Our Earth is heating up, and the consequences are dire. We could do worse than heed the warning of the Secretary-General and the scientific community ~ coming together to address the climate emergency before it’s too late. We owe it to ourselves, our fellow inhabitants of this planet and the generations yet to come. It begins with the little sacrifices ~ ditching our comforts ~ we make every day.