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Earth Day 2024: The warnings from climate scientists could not be more severe

On this Earth Day we should not ignore the warnings of climate scientists who could not be sending a more dire warning.

On this Earth Day we should not ignore the warnings of climate scientists who could not be sending a more dire warning.

With high confidence, the world’s best climate scientists warned last year that “human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming.” The quote can be found in the International Panel on Climate Change’s sixth report, which compiles the best and latest science on the impacts of climate change. On this Earth Day, these warnings should not be forgotten, as these threats can no longer be ignored.

The damage to the earth’s diverse climates is visible. If current emissions levels are allowed to continue, or even worse, are expanded, the consequences will become even more dangerous than those already being seen. The IPCC confirmed that “human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe,” and, again, with high confidence, the scientists found that “vulnerable communities who have historically contributed the least to the current climate change are disproportionately affected.”

In 2009, Lumumba Di-Aping, the then-chair of the G-77, a group bringing together poor countries to increase their power during negotiations, described inaction and the agreements reached at that conference as a “suicide pact.” “[This] is asking Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact to maintain the economic dependence of a few countries. It’s a solution based on values that funneled six million people in Europe into furnaces,” said Di-Aping at the 2009 UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen.

Now, the science backs up the claim, with deaths from pollution and environmental disasters rising each year. The World Health Organization reported last year that over the last two decades, heat-related deaths alone had risen more than seventy percent. Mind you, this is before we consider that scientists have identified 1.5°C of warming as a tipping point that could unleash new horrors.

What can be done?

First and foremost, emissions must be reduced. There is no way to justify any further inaction, yet somehow, many of the world’s leaders have not received that memo and are continuing to push for the further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. The US Energy Information Agency (EIA) released a 2023 International Energy Outlook containing a serious warning: the world is on track to continue growing total CO2 emissions through 2050.

“Our projections highlight a key global insight—global energy‐related CO2 emissions will increase through 2050 in all IEO2023 cases except our Low Economic Growth case,” write the report’s authors. The team believes that energy generated by renewables will increase significantly over the coming decades but warns that “current policies are not enough to decrease global energy‐sector emissions.” For the authors, current policy does not account for “population growth, regional economic shifts toward more manufacturing, and increased energy consumption as living standards improve.”

However, in these economies, there are great opportunities for countries more dependent on fossil fuels to invest in clean energy alternatives. If wealthier countries know that a greater amount of the global carbon budget will need to be used by emerging and low-income economies, higher levels of investment will be required to transition their economies away from fossil fuels. The policymakers make clear that this is not happening, and based on reports from the EIA that show expanded investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, these countries are moving in the opposite direction. Development targets and the need to reduce emissions should not be placed in opposition to one another, and ensuring that the energy transition is just will require planning on a global scale. The EIA report shows there has not been enough planning at this point and that leaders must act quickly to prevent further irreversible damage to the environment.