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  • Writer's pictureGregory Andrews

12 Months Above 1.6°C: A Wake-Up Call

Data from the European Union's global climate measurement system shows May 2024 was the world's warmest May on record. The Copernicus ERA5 measurement system showed average global temperatures over the past twelve months soared to an alarming 1.63°C above preindustrial levels! This statistic is so much more than a number. It is a stark indicator of the failure of climate policies and the rapid pace at which our planet is warming.

Understanding the Scale

Climate change is already having profound impacts on the environment, societies, economies and our safety. And things are going to get much worse. To put things into perspective, the 2015 Paris Agreement adopted a safe threshold of 1.5°C of warming. That science-based target is now well and truly blown. We're pushing up towards 2°C and will very likely exceed 3°C of warming without serious and immediate action. The climate system has a lot of momentum. Irreversible climate impacts are looming.

The effects of a global climate that's a few degrees warmer are much more significant than a day that's a few degrees hotter and which may or may not require a cardigan! The existing warming of 1.6°C is clearly already having serious and widespread consequences. Across the world, people are dying of heat stress in temperatures above 50°C, schools are closing, cities are either flooding or running out of water, and crops are failing. In Australia, our farmers are suffering, the Great Barrier Reef has undergone its worst ever bleaching event, and South Western Australia's forests are collapsing.

Economists from Harvard and Northwestern Universities in the US released a paper last month assessing the costs of climate change as comparable to the economic impacts of being at constant war. They found a 3°C temperature increase would cause “precipitous declines in output, capital and consumption that exceed 50 per cent by 2100”. This is not some far off future event. My kids will be alive then! And in the meantime, drought in Spain and climate events in the Mediterranean pushed olive oil prices up by 130 per cent last year according to the IMF. I've noticed the difference when I'm shopping at Aldi.

Meanwhile: Australia Has Climate Policy Inertia

This evidence should be serving as a clarion call. But as preeminent Australian climate scientist Joëlle Gergis has outlined in her just-released Quarterly Essay - Highway to Hell: Climate Change and Australia's Future - Australia's government is at best "paralysed".

"While any reasonable person understands that Rome wasn’t built in a day, the truth is that we are still not doing enough to address the root cause of our rapidly warming planet. No matter which way you look at it, fossil fuels are cooking the planet."

Joëlle Gergis's latest compelling essay, emphasises the stark disparity between the escalating climate crisis and the Australian Government's inaction. She critically points out that its efforts in tackling the climate emergency have been, at best, "sluggish". Furthermore, its continued pursuit of large-scale fossil fuel projects contrasts starkly with the urgent actions needed to align with scientific realities. Inertia is not only failing to address the root cause of climate change - fossil fuel consumption - but also positioning Australia poorly on the global stage, where rapid and resolute action is becoming increasingly crucial.

The challenges associated with responding to climate change are no longer technical or scientific. The world and Australia have all the technologies necessary for a safe, zero-emissions future. The challenges are overwhelmingly political. There is a pressing need for a paradigm shift.

While the growing evidence of climate chaos is daunting, we should not be disheartened. Instead, it's time to get energised and into action. Climate change is the greatest challenge we have ever faced. That's why it requires a collective and determined response. Even if our government isn't acting strongly enough, we can. Every small action that each of us takes counts. Whether it's personal efforts like having conversations with friends and family about the seriousness of the situation, reducing our own emissions by driving less and cycling more, installing roof-top solar, or ditching gas appliances, divesting from dirty money, protesting though peaceful direct action, changing the way we vote, or mobilising ahead of the next election to find credible independents who can take action in our parliament for a safe climate, the time for serious and concerted action is now.

I'm with Joëlle Gergis when she says "as the next federal election approaches, we need a critical mass of people willing to create a social tipping point that demands our leaders do better."

Let’s rise to the challenge. There's no time to lose. Share this post and your ideas and thoughts below.

Data source: Copernicus ERA5, @LeonSimons8.

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1 Comment

Jun 03

So true! Why are our governments so paralysed? They are thinking so short term in the face of an existential crisis. We are wandering zombie like into a hellish future and no one seems brave enough to take this on. We all behave like business as usual.

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