A Make-or-Break Year for Climate Action


Humans are taking planet Earth for granted; they continue to deplete it thinking they will not be affected by the consequences. As a result, we are now facing the biggest environmental challenge our species has ever encountered; that is global warming. It is defined as the gradual heating of the Earth’s surface, oceans, and atmosphere, as a result of burning fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases into the Earth’s atmosphere.

At the beginning of the 19th century, carbon dioxide was listed as a “greenhouse gas”. In 1972, John Sawyer, Head of Research at the UK Meteorological Office, published a paper in Nature predicting a warming of about 0.6°C by the end of the 20th century. From 1906 to 2005, global temperature has actually increased by 0.74°C and global sea level has risen by 17 cm as a result of the ensuing snow melting from many mountains and in the Polar regions. More regional changes have also been observed, including changes in Arctic temperatures and ice, ocean salinity, wind patterns, droughts, precipitations, frequency of heat waves, and intensity of tropical cyclones.

Recent reports show that CO2 concentration in the atmosphere as of 2018 has reached its highest records in 3 million years; 11% of greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation caused by humans, and not by car and truck emissions. The last few years were the hottest on record, and winter temperatures in the Arctic have risen by 3°C since 1990. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying, climate change has already begun to affect human health through air pollution, heatwaves, and risks to food security.

Higher CO2 emissions are from the developed countries; the United States and China emit the highest levels of CO2 emissions in the world. In 2015, China produced more than 900 million tons of carbon dioxide, while the United States has the second-highest of about 500 million tons. On the contrary, many of the poorest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa—such as the Central African Republic, Chad, and Niger—have the lowest levels of emissions; their average footprint is around 0.1 tons per year, and that is considered more than 160 times lower than Australia, Canada, and USA.

As global temperatures continue to climb, by 2050, heatwaves similar to those witnessed in 2018 could occur every other year. By 2100, heatwaves will likely become more intense and longer lasting, with the possibility of temperatures exceeding 40°C and heatwaves lasting 50 days.

According to a recent report issued in October 2019 by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have to cut global carbon emissions by half in 2030 in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. The report indicated that, by limiting global warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C—a goal set long ago—Earth will be much better; to achieve that goal, the world has to cut its greenhouse emissions by 45% by 2030.

Many people would face climate change-related water shortages, hundreds of millions would face extreme heatwaves. In order to save the people and the wildlife that depends on nature to thrive now and in the future, individuals, citizens, governments, businesses, and everybody have to step up together and take urgent action to protect and restore nature for a more sustainable future.

There is no magic bullet to combat climate change, humans should change the way they produce and consume energy, such as shifting to wind and solar power, using biofuels produced from organic waste, and protecting the forests can reduce the amount of CO2 and other gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. Other solutions to reverse our current situation include building batteries to store renewable energy; engineering a smarter electric grid; and capturing carbon dioxide from power plants and other sources with the goal of storing it underground or turning it into valuable products, such as gasoline.

From 6–18 November 2022, countries will come together in Egypt at the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP 27)—read more in “COP27 at a Glance!”—to enhance their action plans, to guarantee that the Paris Agreement goals set in 2015 are achieved. Accordingly, more ambitious plans need to be set to restore the natural systems and ensure their sustainability.

It is still our call; if we do not change the course, we risk disastrous consequences that will affect all life on Earth. With everyone’s help, we can start restoring our planet, so let us make sure it is just that.


This article was first published in print in SCIplanet, Winter 2020 issue.

Cover Image by user6702303 on Freepik.

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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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