One of the canards of climate change scepticism has been an apparent “pause” in warming over the past two decades. Why should anyone get hot under the collar about increasing temperatures, say sceptics, when the thermometer has not reached far beyond a peak achieved in 1998? As with all such “denialism”, this focuses on a single statistic at the expense of the bigger picture: ocean temperatures – a good indicator – have risen precipitously since that year, and over a longer period surface measurements point to a similarly sharp increase.
The end of this dispute, at least, is nigh. Environmental scientists claim that 2015 will smash the record for the hottest year “by a mile”. Ocean readings lie behind the prediction, in the main. But India’s deadly May heatwave, in which temperatures reached 47C, was a more dramatic warning sign to many. Fail to control carbon dioxide emissions and such extreme weather events will proliferate, experts agree.
The medical journal The Lancet suggests that the death toll from climate-change related droughts and heatwaves has been vastly underestimated, and could reach 250,000 a year by the end of the century.
This record-breaking year should focus political minds. The international climate summit starting in Paris in November offers the best chance to make a “pause” in warming a reality.
There is hope. The US and China have signed a bilateral agreement limiting CO2 emissions, and their leadership, as the two largest polluters, is essential. Disappointingly, the UK appears to be joining more recalcitrant nations: recent steep cuts to solar-energy subsidies have sold short an industry that, despite its success, still needs state support.
In its early stages, developing countries bear the brunt of climate change. Richer nations cannot wait until “record-breaking” temperatures cause them havoc, too. The emergency is now.
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