Climate Injustice

The problem with earth’s temperature heating more than 2 degrees Celsius 

Written by Neil McCabe

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)  held in Rio de Janeiro 1992, set about making goals to stabilise the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate. Anthropogenic is essentially the influence of human beings on nature. In the context of climate change, it means the influence of human beings on the earth’s climate system. Since the 1992 convention held in Rio de Janeiro, world emissions and growth rates have actually been increasing year on year, with no control on emissions. There have been so many technological developments and advancements that deliver a cleaner environment, use less energy and improve air quality, but the demand for these technologies has outweighed the initial emission and energy savings. 

When we are talking about a 2 degree Celsius global temperature increase, it’s not easy is to imagine the air over our towns and villages or cities heating up. That’s because 2 degree Celsius does not seem like that big a deal.  It’s equally not easy to notice the temperature over the sea increasing too, especially because we don’t see this occurring. That difference from today to the ice age is only 5ºC, and warming from the ice age took 10,000 years.  Now such a massive change in temperature could occur in only 200 years if, emissions are not stopped quickly. 

The sea acts similar to a giant heat sponge absorbing all the extra heat above it. Just like a real sponge as soon as it’s squeezed the water leaks out, the sea is no different. Warmer waters mean more rain and major changes in local temperatures always follow. If there are no more emissions released from anywhere in the world by next week, the earth’s temperature will still rise by at least 1.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2050. Existing emissions are currently sitting in the atmosphere, some of them with lifecycles of over 100 years and their effect on our climate over the next many decades guarantees a temperature increase. We have to look for long term action-based plans over the next set of decades rather than short-term, short-sighted plans.  This shift in average climate heat increases shows catastrophic results, society will inevitably breakdown and the new temperature increases will cause new feedbacks. 

We know that it’s important for earth’s temperature to not exceed a 2 degrees Celsius warming yet we make plans as if we didn’t know this valuable information. Thankfully some scientists are arguing that we should be genuinely making a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature increase as our target – not 2 degrees, but this is probably unachievable even with drastic global effort. It’s a bit like having access to a bank account where we fail to deposit any money, constantly making withdrawals and it’s only when get near to the overdraft stage that we contemplate taking actions. Of course by that time it’s far too late. It seems like anytime we are informed that we are going to have to do something about the state of the account, the universal response is: we have another new plan that we intend to start sometime in the future. The target year of 2050 has given us the illusion that everything will be alright until then. Cutting emissions by 50% by 2050 sounds fantastic but most of today’s emissions will have a lifecycle of between 2 and 150 years spent hovering in the atmosphere. In fact most of the effects of CO2 last for many hundreds of years. Politicians tell us that they will “meet the needs of this generation without compromising the needs of the next.” 

The biggest threat to world climate emissions is actually India. India has been sneaking up behind China and has already reached an emission growth rate of 7.5% every year since 2000. They are currently responsible for 7% of world emissions (while always overshadowed by China’s GDP rates and emissions.) Economists have mislead the public and private sectors with talk of China being unable to maintain its growth rates and year on year China literally proved them wrong, outperforming the market. It’s happening in India as well. It is guesstimated that the industrialised nations (Annex I countries) will have their emissions peaking between 2015 and 2020. However, China’s and India’s emissions will both peak at the same time – 2030. By then India will be producing over 7 gigatonnes of emissions each year, the same volume as China. In other words by 2030 China and India will both separately produce more emissions than all of the rest of the world put together – at the same time. 

The emissions in the troposphere and atmosphere today are already higher than the world can sustain without heating more than 2 degrees Celsius. Leaders simply have to make major long term plans for life on earth after temperatures increase. There is no point in developed world countries making emissions plans, strategies and cuts, while developing world countries are (thanks to their growth rates and improved lifestyles) pumping out more emissions than any other time before. It is hard to comprehend that it’s not the fault of the developing world countries that the developed world countries have already used up our climate budget. They did not make this mess. Our traditional European growth rates are not resilient and we can either receive EU aid packages or depend on manufacturing from the developing world countries. 

This is often referenced as climate injustice, a scenario that gets worse. If the industrialised world does not continue to grow then the developing world cannot grow. Transboundary air pollution cannot be stopped even if somehow our emissions drop. Every city is a potential particulate matter (fine air particles) harvesting hub. Earth is the total system and it cannot eat itself. Similarly we cannot live on earth after 2100 without climate conflict, if we cannot prevent the temperature from increasing more than 2 – 3 degrees higher than the time of the industrial revolution.