Sharm el-Sheikh, resort, Egypt
The Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, scene of last year’s UN climate conference. Why there? Because climate luminaries, unlike climate victims, must be kept comfortable. Photo credit: Martin Wi / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
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I’d like to put two facts before you, one a data point, and one a comment from the climate minister of a moderately well-off African nation. Each is important, but put together, the whole becomes more than its parts.

We’ve Heard This Song Before

First the data point. Not long ago, I wrote a piece entitled “Everything New Is Old Again.” As the piece explains, we live our lives at an unusual time, “tucked between the start of a world-historical collapse and stories about it so old they sound not special at all.”

Is there anything new in these facts? Yet here they come again, this time from the United Nations’ “Emissions Gap Report” for 2022 (hat tip Umair Haque):

Policies currently in place point to a 2.8 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature rise by the end of the century. Implementation of the current pledges will only reduce this to a 2.4-2.6 degrees Celsius (4.3-4.6 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature rise by the end of the century

So:

  1. Current policies that control the burning of fossil fuel indicate a global warming of nearly 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. And:
  1. If every nation’s promise to reduce emissions were met — and few are even close — 2100’s global warming will be just 0.3 degrees (.5 degrees Fahrenheit) less than it otherwise would have been.

Even if we were able to “dead-stop” fossil fuel emissions, global warming will continue well past the end of the century:

Even if humanity stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, Earth will warm for centuries to come and oceans will rise by metres.

The report explains:

Using a stripped-down climate model, [lead author Jorgen] Randers [professor emeritus of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School] and colleague Ulrich Goluke projected changes out to the year 2500 under two scenarios: the instant cessation of emissions, and the gradual reduction of planet warming gases to zero by 2100.

In an imaginary world where carbon pollution stops with a flip of the switch, the planet warms over the next 50 years to about 2.3 degrees Celsius (4.1 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels — roughly half-a-degree (~1 degree Fahrenheit) above the target set in the 2015 Paris Agreement — and cools slightly after that. Earth’s surface today is 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than it was in the mid-19th century, when temperatures began to rise.

But starting in 2150, the model has the planet beginning to gradually warm again, with average temperatures climbing another degree (~2 degrees Fahrenheit) over the following 350 years, and sea levels going up by at least three meters (~10 feet).

Under the second scenario, Earth heats up to levels that would tear at the fabric of civilization far more quickly, but ends up at roughly the same point by 2500. [emphasis added]

To put this in kitchen terms, when you pull a roast out of the oven, the meat keeps cooking. In this scenario, we’re the meat.

One More Country Heard From

Yet while this is ho-hum news in the industrial, wealthy West, it’s a near-present catastrophe for the poorer rest of the world.

From The Guardian:

“Nothing will change on climate until death toll rises in west, says Gabonese minister”

Gabon is one of the former French colonies on the west coast of Africa.

Map, Africa, Gabon

Photo credit: Thomas Neuburger

It’s relatively wealthy for a small nation of less than 3 million people. It’s not a Pacific Island with 40 people and a boat. Nor is it Haiti (another former French colony), which seems always on the verge of collapse.

Gabon seems to be taking pretty good care of itself. Yet the Gabonese know which side of the global wealth gap the climate bread is buttered on:

The world will only take meaningful action on the climate crisis once people in rich countries start dying in greater numbers from its effects, Gabon’s environment minister has said, while warning that broken promises on billions of dollars of adaptation finance have left a “sense of betrayal” before Cop27 [the UN 2022 global climate meeting].

And there you have it, straight from the helpless-to-intervene minister’s mouth — until the rich world starts dying, nothing will change.

That’s his opinion, of course. Blunt and stark. But is he wrong?

Published with the permission of Thomas Neuburger. A version of this piece originally appeared in his newsletter “God’s Spies.”


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