On Thursday of this week, almost 200 nations are meeting in Dubai at the COP28 Climate Summit to discuss global warming. The COP28 the participants will focus on how to keep temperatures from climbing any higher. Thus far, the track record is less than encouraging.
Over the last eight years, despite pledges from both political and business leaders worldwide to reduce industrial emissions, temperatures have continued to rise. This is in the face of massive efforts both here and abroad to develop and expand solar, wind, and nuclear power alternatives to fossil fuels.
Despite these efforts, carbon dioxide emissions and temperatures continue to rise. With that background, the climate summit will be focusing on how to keep their stated goal of keeping world temperature gains below their 1.5-degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) target.
That number, established at the 2009 Copenhagen summit, was officially set as a temperature ceiling goal a year later by the United Nations.
In 2015, at the Paris Agreement, 195 countries agreed to hold temperatures below 2 degrees Centigrade, specifically to stay within that 1.5 centigrade level. The 1.5C level is akin to a speed limit for rising temperatures worldwide. Going above that level, scientists believe, would make some impacts of climate change irreversible.
It was not an arbitrary data point. Climate scientists arrived at the number by comparing the average global surface temperatures today with those that occurred in the late 1800s before industrialization. The difference between now and then is approximately 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit).
The bad news, according to Copernicus, a European climate service, is that we have already surpassed the 1.5-degree speed limit on at least 127 days this year. That may seem a tiny number to you and me, but when it is added to an overheated planet overall, the impact can be huge. As a result, it is almost a certainty that 2023 will be the hottest year on record.
Floods, heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires — take your pick — we all experienced the changes. Some more than others.
More subtle changes are occurring as well like the change in farmers' growing seasons throughout the world. Fortunately, the ocean, which makes up 70 percent of the earth's surface, absorbed more than 90 percent of the excess heat (and 30 percent of excess carbon dioxide). However, even the oceans are succumbing to the extra heat. Coral reefs are bleaching and crumbling, the polar ice and snow caps are rapidly shrinking and so is marine life.
Here in the U.S., the heat is causing accelerated climate change. It is also creating more and more extreme weather events, according to the latest Federal National Climate Assessment. The cost of extreme weather events is at least $150 billion per year in direct damage alone. That total is projected to increase over the near term. In addition, billion-dollar events are occurring at a far more rapid clip than they did in decades past, according to the report.
Today a billion-dollar disaster is occurring every three weeks, as compared to one every four months back in 1980.
Unless something changes, the 1.5C threshold will be broken permanently by the early 2030s, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That would create much worse climate effects and make 2023's weather issues look like child's play in comparison.
Do I think something radical will change during the COP28 this week? No, I don't. Both President Biden and Vice President Harris are not even attending. That is not to say that America is doing nothing. The president has allocated $6 billion to strengthen the electric grid, help deploy carbon-free energy, protect communities from the impacts of climate change, and improve water reliability. But given the dangers, the U.S. and other industrialized countries need to do more, a lot more.
Work on reducing emissions is so slow that additional greenhouse warming is almost a guarantee. The world's efforts to roll back climate change have been incremental when was is needed is a transformative approach. Redesigning the way buildings are built, rather than installing air conditioning, halting, rather than slowing, new development in floodplains, the kind and number of cars we drive, how we cool and heat our homes, and how business conducts business from the ground up.
Am I preaching to the choir? I don't think so. We are all sitting on our hands, complaining about the weather, the tick seasons, and the ice storms and doing little to nothing about the cause. Well, unless you plan to vacate this planet in the next seven or so years, our time of reckoning fast approaches. By then it will be too late.
Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at email@example.com.
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