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A searing climate reality in 2024 calls for urgent action

By Wei Ke | China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-20 07:35
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An aerial photo of Sanjiangyuan National Park in Northwest China's Qinghai province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

During the final days of Spring Festival, many individuals and vehicles found themselves stranded in Gansu province as a result of the effects of sand and snow. This situation prompted local authorities to swiftly implement measures to provide assistance. And before that many others were stuck on the way home because of freezing weather in southern China. In fact, extreme weather has posed more and more challenges for governance. Therefore China has to make better preparations to handle an increase in climate-related incidents this year.

In a poignant address in July 2023, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pleaded for immediate radical climate action, saying that the record-shattering July temperatures show the Earth has passed from a warming phase into "the era of global boiling". The analogy of a pot of boiling water is apt, as the world has been subjected to prolonged warming.

The implications of this "era of global boiling" are glaring, with the international community grappling with the devastating consequences of climate change.

In China, intense heat waves swept across the northern part of the country, including Beijing, in June and July 2023. The capital had high temperatures for 14 out of the 30 days in June. In addition to scorching temperatures, June saw extreme drought conditions. However, a drastic shift occurred in late July and early August when sudden, torrential rains inundated Beijing.

This impact wasn't confined to Beijing alone. The entire Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region was flooded following continuous heavy rainfall. Urban areas were waterlogged, rivers overflowed, mudslides caused havoc, with houses, vehicles and people's belongings submerged in murky floodwaters.

Globally, extreme weather events, including high temperatures, torrential rain, floods and wildfires, ravaged regions across North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America. Extreme weather events continued throughout the year, with global temperatures consistently surpassing historical records. On Nov 30 last year, the World Meteorological Organization announced that 2023 was set to be the warmest year on record, with temperatures about 1.45 C higher than the preindustrial baseline (1850-1900).

Global warming was not the sole reason for the extreme weather events. They could be attributed also to El Niño, which had been developing since May. El Niño, characterized by significantly high sea temperatures in the Central and Eastern Pacific, tends to impact the entire globe and contribute to a rise in average global temperatures.

According to the forecasts of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, El Niño will cause land warming in 2024. Heat waves, droughts and forest fires will become more frequent. And global warming will intensify along with heat waves in oceans, ocean de-oxygenation, marine ecosystem disruptions, and continuous loss of marine biodiversity.

Extreme weather conditions are closely intertwined with global agricultural production. The high temperatures and extreme weather events in 2024 will significantly affect the production of crops such as corn, rice and wheat, which will have a profound impact on global poverty alleviation and sustainable development. In the post-COVID-19 pandemic era, with the looming clouds of war and strife in some regions, frequent extreme weather events will exacerbate regional vulnerabilities and turmoil, making it more challenging to realize the UN Sustainable Development Goals such as "No Poverty" and "Zero Hunger".

Climate change amplifies global and regional issues, testing the resilience of cities, communities, infrastructure and the very essence of humanity. In underdeveloped regions and countries, and even in some developed countries and urban areas, many households become more vulnerable to climate change after being battered by sustained extreme climate events.

Parents, especially in developing countries, marry off their daughters in childhood, as a means of coping with the changing situation after climate disasters, resulting in a tragic modern-day social phenomenon and a blow to social development. There is a need therefore to take immediate global climate action to prevent the reverse of the gains of the Sustainable Development Goals worldwide.

In conclusion, the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, emphasized the need to mobilize global resources for a just and equitable transition to green development. With record-breaking temperatures in 2023 and an increasing number of days exceeding the 1.5 C threshold, achieving the carbon reduction goals and mitigating anthropogenic climate change have become extremely urgent.

But the narrow time window to achieve the goals demands prompt and resolute global response. This is not only a test for global leaders but also a test for the global public. As consumers, every individual plays a role in increasing emissions. Factories emitting toxic smoke, vehicles plying on roads, and ships navigating oceans all serve consumers. By choosing low-carbon products and lifestyles, consumers can reduce emissions and build a better future. On the other hand, by indulging in blind consumerism, they will put that better future out of reach. So the choice lies not just with global leaders but also with every consumer.

The author is a research fellow at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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