Brian McCowan, Zondits staff, 2/12/2024
Hot on the heels of COP28 (Was COP28 a Success? It Depends on Who You Ask | Zondits), two new reports are sounding alarms on climate change. The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service announced that 2023 was the hottest year ever recorded—and that’s in 173 years of record-keeping. The International Energy Agency (IEA)’s World Energy Outlook 2023 reports that temperatures in India are approaching a “survivability limit” alongside a rapidly growing demand for air conditioning.
The Copernicus Annual Global Climate Report, published by the European Union Commission, is based on data collected by the Climate and Weather Monitoring Agency. In early January, Copernicus reported that global average temperatures were 0.6 degrees Celsius warmer than the last 30 years and 1.48°C degrees warmer than the pre-industrial period referenced in the Paris Climate Agreements and all subsequent COP conferences.
Copernicus also reported:
- 2023 was the first time that every day of a year was at least 1 degree hotter than pre-industrial levels
- Nearly half of the days were warmer than the targets established in the Paris Climate Agreement
- That July and August 2023 were the warmest two individual months on record
- 2023 saw the hottest October and December in 40 years
- Warming in the world’s oceans reached a new high in 2023
- Its data models predict that a 12-month period ending in January or February 2024 will surpass the Paris 1.5°C goals.
In a press statement reported by Reuters and other news services, Copernicus Director Carlo Buontempo said, “The extremes we have observed over the last few months provide a dramatic testimony of how far we now are from the climate in which our civilization developed. This has profound consequences for the Paris Agreement and all human endeavors. If we want to successfully manage our climate risk portfolio, we need to urgently decarbonize our economy whilst using climate data and knowledge to prepare for the future.”
The University of Reading, in the United Kingdom, widely recognized as a leading educational institution in climate science and policy, published a reaction to the Copernicus report. Hannah Cloke, professor of hydrology, states, “This report is a grim landmark, but it is pointless to despair. We must respond with action. Scientists and the world’s governments have agreed that it is preferable to avoid the worst impacts of climate change in the future by cutting emissions, and the faster the better. All governments, including in the UK, should pay heed to their own existing commitments to cut emissions quickly. We do not have the luxury to exploit new oil and gas reserves in places like the North Sea, or to further delay the transition to low-carbon technologies.”
Hotter and Faster Than Predicted
The Science Media Center has also published reactions to the study from multiple climate scientists. Amanda Maycock, Professor of Climate Dynamics at the University of Leeds, said, “While some left COP28 with a sense of optimism, it is clear to me that the collective will to cut carbon emissions is not strong enough to avoid 1.5C, and sadly we will be seeing many more headlines like this for years to come.” And John Marsham, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Leeds, said, “2023 saw some incredible extremes, with the impacts of climate change becoming ever more obvious: not only floods, fires, droughts and deadly heatwaves, but crop losses, food price rises and damage to nature—for example the mass loss of penguin chicks in Antarctica. We desperately need to rapidly cut fossil fuel use and reach net zero to preserve the livable climate that we all depend on. People are also now increasingly aware of the need to address the powerful vested interests that are trying to block the progress we all so urgently need.”
The consensus predictions for warming during 2023 were “annihilated” according to Liz Bentley, Chief Executive of the UK’s Royal Meteorological Society. Bentley pointed to the regional, national, and international daily and monthly temperature records that were set. “If you look at climate projections, when we expect to see temperature changes of close to 1.5 degrees Celsius, indeed it has come sooner than many would have expected,” Bentley told CNN. “We’ve definitely seen an acceleration towards that, rather than it being a kind of linear progression. It feels like it’s rising much more exponentially.”
Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, sums it up this way, the high temperatures recorded have, “given us a taste of the climate extremes that occur near the Paris targets. It should shake the complacency displayed in the actions by most governments around the world.”
Update 2/8/2024 – As Zondits was preparing to post this article, The European Union Commission updated the Copernicus data to include temperatures recorded in January 2024. The result is that the previous 12-month period was the hottest 1-year period on record, and for the first time the Paris Agreement goal of staying within 1.5 °C was exceeded. Climate: World surpasses key warming threshold across an entire year (cnbc.com)
Reaching the Limits of Human Survivability in India
Climate scientists are warning that India and other regions in South Asia are approaching the limits of survivability and that the demand for air conditioning is a short-term solution and a long-term problem.
CNN is reporting that temperatures in New Delhi this past June exceeded 40°C (104°F), putting food supplies in danger, straining energy systems, and closing schools. During the same period, temperatures elsewhere in India reached 47°C (116°F), killing at least 44 people and sickening hundreds with heat-related illnesses, according to the World Bank.
During each heatwave, inefficient second-hand air conditioners are being sold at a brisk pace as residents attempt to bring their homes and businesses to reasonable levels of comfort. Older AC units are not only inefficient, but they also commonly leak refrigerants at alarming rates, and marketers routinely release refrigerants into the atmosphere when recharging or servicing the units.
The IEA’s World Energy Outlook, 2023 warns that by 2050, India will likely exceed survivability limits. And the agency predicts that over the interim, the demand for air conditioners will increase nine-fold. According to an article published by CNN, “[T]he paradox facing the world’s most populous country of 1.4 billion: The hotter and wealthier India gets, the more Indians will use AC. And the more they use AC, the hotter the country will become.” Extreme heat is pushing India to the brink of ‘survivability.’ One obvious solution is also a big part of the problem.
The COP28 climate conference included an opportunity for countries to sign a pledge to reduce emissions from air conditioning systems. India was one of the countries that did not sign the pledge. Issues of fairness were a major concern. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking during the opening session of the conference, said that developing countries must be given “a fair share in the global carbon budget.”
India faces many challenges, not the least of which is continuing widespread poverty. While the country struggles to upgrade its building and transportation infrastructure, limiting AC emissions can rightly be seen as a barrier to economic advancement.
Growing Green Solutions for India
Yet India is making some progress on climate impacts from cooling systems. It has adopted the United Nations’ 2016 Kigali Amendment that established a phaseout of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants in favor of refrigerants with lower global warming impacts. (Heat Pumps and Refrigerants, It’s Complicated | Zondits)
Used residential AC units typically rely on HFCs or even chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that began to be phased out in the 1980s prompted by the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement that predates the COP conferences. The Montreal Protocol is often held up as an example of international agreements that can succeed: CFCs were eliminated to protect the Earth’s ozone layer, and recent science has concluded that the layer is now fully repaired.
In addition, India has adopted a 2019 national cooling action plan with the goal of reducing the power consumed for cooling by at least 20% by 2038. The plan calls for implementing cost-effective solutions that allow for continued economic growth.
Besides transitioning to new “greener” refrigerants, new passive cooling strategies are being implemented in India and worldwide, including ceiling fans, shade tree plantings, strategically located water bodies, advanced ventilation, and “cool” reflective roof and pavement surfaces. India also reports the rapid expansion of renewable energy that will help prevent coal burning from being the dominant source of energy for cooling systems.
The Copernicus Global Climate report, following so closely on the heels of the agreements signed at COP28, serves as a stark reminder of the severe challenges the world faces. India is not unique in experiencing climate-driven catastrophes, it is simply an early victim, and other regions are destined to follow. In the United States, we need only look at the current damaging storms of December and January to see that there is no time to waste.