This week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that revealed a harsh truth: the world is likely to surpass the warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius by the early 2030s.
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we ‘tell’ you what that fateful moment means for our planet.
Scientists have long warned that crossing beyond the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold would lead to climate disasters so extreme that people will not be able to adapt to them. Basic components of the Earth’s system will also be fundamentally and permanently altered. Millions of people around the world will likely lose their lives because of heat waves, famines and infectious diseases.
So, before we dive headfirst into this looming crisis, it’s worth asking – where does the world stand right now, in 2023? Here are some indicators to help us assess what the situation looks like, according to a March 2023 report in the UK-based news website BBC:
1. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels
The Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, US, forecasted the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere this year to be 419.2 parts per million (ppm). The global average last year was 417.2ppm. The last time carbon dioxide levels exceeded 400ppm was around four million years ago, during the Pliocene era, when temperatures around the world were 2 to 4 degrees Celsius warmer, and sea levels were between 33 to 82 feet higher than they are today.
2. Forest loss
One of the most effective ways of carbon capture, or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, is by planting more trees and protecting carbon-absorbing ecosystems. But currently, forests are shrinking at an alarming rate. A February 2022 study in the UK-based journal Nature found that the loss of forest carbon in the tropics was twice as high between 2015 and 2019 than it was between 2001 and 2005. One of the major concerns has to do with the Amazon rainforest – over a quarter of this region now emits more carbon than it absorbs, because of deforestation and dry conditions.
3. Record heat
Scientists first began recording global temperatures in 1880. We know now that 2022 was the sixth-warmest year since records began, according to the US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The oceans, on the other hand, were the hottest ever recorded, in 2022. In fact, the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred in the past decade, since 2010. A roster of 28 countries experienced their warmest year on record in 2022, including China, New Zealand and the UK.
4. Melting ice
Arctic sea ice is melting at a rapid rate. It has now shrunk to its fifth-lowest maximum on record, retreating to 14.62 million square kilometres. With the loss of sea ice, there is a reduction in the albedo effect – the capacity of snow and ice to reflect heat. So, the reflective white surface of snow and ice is replaced by a dark, heat-absorbing surface, which further accelerates the melting process. The situation is dire near the South Pole, too. There is now less sea ice surrounding Antarctica than at any time since satellites began measuring it in the late 1970s. With Antarctica losing ice mass at a rate of 150 billion tonnes a year, it could lead to a dangerous rise in sea levels.
5. Thawing permafrost
The current carbon storage in permafrost is more than twice the amount in our atmosphere, according to a May 2021 study in the journal Biological Sciences. But across the northern hemisphere, permafrost is rapidly warming as well. As it warms and thaws, it releases a huge amount of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere, further adding to global warming.
The UN report comes as a warning call to nations around the world. Do you think international governments are taking climate change seriously? Play today’s Spell It and tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.