Winters and summers keep getting warmer
San Francisco, British Columbia and Delhi all reported all-time record June temperatures this year, suggesting heatwaves are beginning anew in the Northern Hemisphere this summer. In 2018, the UK experienced the hottest summer since 2006 and a scientific study into last year’s data showed that such heatwaves are now 30x more likely due to climate change.
And all of this is set to become much more common. There is a 12 per cent chance of average temperatures being as high as the UK experienced last year; this compares with a less than half a per cent chance that would be expected in a climate without human-caused climate change.
But the country is not only experiencing soaring temperatures in summer. Temperatures of 21.2 degrees Celsius were recorded in London’s Kew Gardens on February 26, 2019. It was the warmest winter day the UK has ever experienced. Parts of the country were hotter than Malibu, Barcelona and Crete. Milder winters can have detrimental effects on hibernating mammals, migratory birds and flowering plants.
The capital of Indonesia will change due to its current one sinking
Sea levels are rising at the fastest rate in 3,000 years, an average three millimetres per year. The two major causes of sea level rise are thermal expansion – the ocean is warming and warmer water expands – and melting of glaciers and ice sheets that increases the flow of water. Antarctica and Greenland hold enough frozen water to raise global sea levels by about 65 metres if they were to melt completely. Even if this scenario is unlikely, these ice masses are already melting faster. And island nations and coastal regions are feeling the impact.
Earlier this year, Indonesia announced its plans to move the capital city away from Jakarta. Home to over ten million people, some parts of Jakarta are sinking as much as 25cm per year. Jakarta’s precarious position is thanks to a combination of two factors – rising global sea levels and land subsidence as underground water supplies have been drained away to meet water needs.
This grim picture is repeated elsewhere too. In the Pacific, at least eight islands were swallowed by the sea in the last century, with Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands feared to be the next low-lying nations to be wiped off the map.
Average wildlife populations have dropped 60% over the last 4 decades
The average size of vertebrate (mammals, fish, birds and reptiles) populations declined by 60 per cent between 1970 and 2014, according to the biennial Living Planet Report published by the Zoological Society of London and the WWF. That doesn’t mean that total animal populations have declined by 60 per cent, however, as the report compares the relative decline of different animal populations. Imagine a population of ten rhinos where nine of them died; a 90 per cent population drop. Add that to a population of 1,000 sparrows where 100 of them died – a ten per cent per cent decrease. The average population decrease across these two groups would be 50 per cent even though the loss of individuals would be just 10.08 per cent.
Whatever way you stack the numbers, climate change is definitely a factor here. An international panel of scientists backed by the UN, argues that climate change is playing an increasing role in driving species to extinction. It is thought to be the third biggest driver of biodiversity loss after changes in land and sea use and over exploitation of resources. Even under a two degrees Celsius warming scenario, five per cent of animal and plant species will be at risk from extinction. Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to extreme warming events, their cover could be reduced to just one per cent of current levels at two degrees Celsius of warming.
In the last 20 years, two-thirds of all extreme weather events were influenced by human activity
The number of floods and heavy rains has quadrupled since 1980 and doubled since 2004. Extreme temperatures, droughts and wildfires have also more than doubled in the last 40 years. While no extreme weather event is never down to a single cause, climate scientists are increasingly exploring the human fingerprints on floods, heatwaves, droughts and storms. Carbon Brief, a UK-based website covering climate science, gathered data from 230 studies into “extreme event attribution” and found that 68 per cent of all extreme weather events studied in the last 20 years were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change. Heatwaves account for 43 per cent of such events, droughts make up 17 per cent and heavy rainfall or floods account for 16 per cent.
In 2018, 120,000 sq kilometres of tropical forests were lost
The world’s tropical forests are shrinking at a staggering rate, the equivalent of 30 football pitches per minute. Whilst some of this loss may be attributed to natural causes such as wildfires, forest areas are primarily cleared to make way for cattle or agricultural production such as palm oil and soybeans. Deforestation contributes to global carbon emissions because trees naturally capture and lock away carbon as they grow.
When forest areas are burnt, carbon that took decades to store is immediately released back into the atmosphere. Tropical deforestation is now responsible for 11 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions – if it were considered a country, tropical deforestation would be the third-largest emitter after China and the US.
Credit: Sabrina Weiss – WIRED