The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report dropped the news that global average temperature rise is now almost certain to exceed 1.5 degrees, with profound consequences for wildlife and people.
The IPCC has been carrying out a comprehensive five-year assessment on the subject. In March, they released their last report of the assessment, a 32-page summary of which can be read here.The finding that grabbed the headlines was this: ‘ Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades’. The smallprint says we’ll probably bust through 1.5°C before the end of this decade.
We are failing to ‘keep 1.5 alive’, which was the chief aim of the UN climate negotiations in Glasgow in 2021.
There is no disguising the utterly devastating blow this will be to nature and people, in terms of everything from habitat loss, flooding, droughts, extreme weather events, disrupted food supplies and sea level rise, forcing the abandonment of many coastal areas and low-lying islands.
Many of us will have noted the impact of last summer’s unprecedented heatwave in our own gardens and local parks, including tree deaths from extreme heat. And that was at ‘just’ 1.1-2 degrees above the global average. The report notes that already: ‘Hundreds of local losses of species have been driven by increases in the magnitude of heat extremes’. And ‘ Impacts [of temperature rise] on some ecosystems are approaching irreversibility…’.
So, what should we do? The first thing is to shout from the rooftops that every fraction of a degree counts. 1.5 degrees may now be beyond us, but stopping at 1.55 or 1.6 would avoid many more extinctions and human deaths than stopping at 1.7 degrees, never mind the cataclysmic 2.4+ which the world is currently on track for. The 2015 Paris Agreement was to keep temperature rise ‘below 2 degrees and as close to 1.5 as possible’.
Secondly, we must be crystal clear about the causes of human-induced climate change and redouble efforts to halt them. The report states that ‘In 2019, approximately 79% of global greenhouse gas emissions came from the sectors of energy, industry, transport and buildings together and 22% from agriculture, forestry and other land use’. Burning fossil fuels remains the single biggest source of emissions. Getting our economies off fossil fuels, therefore, is the overriding priority.
We must also preserve our natural carbon sinks, from the Amazon rainforest to our remaining UK woodlands, grasslands and wetlands, establish new ones, switch to climate-and-biodiversity-friendly farming, plant trees and open new greenspaces in our towns and cities.
Finally, as Christians, we should use every tool God gives us to accelerate the right action for His creation – nature and people. Pray for change, for our faith to sustain us in concerning times. Use our power as consumers, for example, by switching our household electricity to a 100% renewable energy supplier. And critically – and entirely free – use our voice and vote to urge local and national politicians to use their much greater powers – to sign international agreements, pass laws, levy taxes, use the national budget to accelerate the right actions – to ‘keep as close as possible to 1.5 degrees’.
No responsible person could welcome the news that we’re on track to cross a thick red climate line in the next few years. But as Christians, it is a thunderous call for collective witness to our loving creator God, through our prayers, our actions, and our petitions to leaders. Let’s get on and witness!
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