Climate change: a planet in crisis

The past few weeks have been bad for climate action around the world. First, a damaging US Supreme Court decision severely limited the mandate of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit carbon emissions in the energy sector. This represents a serious setback for US President Joe Biden’s attempts to divert the world’s largest carbon-emitting country from fossil fuels to renewable energy (RE).

This decision has caused worldwide consternation, precisely because of the signal it sends to the rest of the world. If the United States does not act on climate, it becomes that much more difficult to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The planet has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius and is expected to temporarily exceed the 1.5 degree threshold over the next five years.

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Equally bad was the European Parliament’s decision on July 6 to label natural gas and nuclear energy as “green energy”, leading experts to say it sets a dangerous precedent for other country. Oil companies have long advocated for natural gas to be considered a less hazardous fossil fuel, with lower emissions. This, they say, can help bridge the gap between phasing out oil and coal and embracing renewable energy. However, this claim has been repeatedly refuted by scientists. The fear is that the European Union’s decision will have global political consequences if, for example, a developing country like India decides to do the same.

One of the dangers of using natural gas is the risk of methane leaking into the atmosphere. A more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide, the global warming effects of methane are generally longer and more intense. This was reiterated by a study published earlier this week in Nature Communication. The study shows how climate change and its impacts, particularly wildfires, release more carbon monoxide and alter the chemical balance of the atmosphere. According to the scientists behind the study, this leads to an increase in global levels of methane. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the global level of methane exceeded 1,900 ppb (parts per billion) in 2021. This is almost triple the amount of methane from pre-industrial times.

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Meanwhile, the effects of climate change are getting worse. Just this week there have been flash floods in Australia’s New South Wales, while research has shown Spain and Portugal are experiencing the driest regional climate in 1,200 years. And finally, scientists at one of the highest observatories in the world, at Sonnblick in the Austrian Alps, were shocked to find that the once perennial snow was melting earlier than ever. This follows the fatal collapse of a glacier in the Italian Alps on July 4, which killed at least seven people. As I said earlier, a bad few weeks for the planet.

Also read: Why we need to talk about climate change every day

Teresa H. Sadler