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Don’t Look Away from the Latest “Red Alert” on Climate Change

UN weather agency warns the planet has never been so close to a critical warming threshold.
COP28 protest

By Josh Leach on April 3, 2024

The international community’s largest body of weather observers—the World Meteorological Organization—issued a stark warning to humanity last month. Global temperatures last year were an average of 1.45 degrees Celsius above historic norms. This number is just shy of the 1.5 degrees that policymakers set as an upper limit to planetary warming when they signed the Paris Agreement in 2015. Climate scientists have long regarded this threshold as the maximum the planet can sustain without risking irreversible climate effects. And now, according to one metric at least, we are about to cross it. 

To be sure, the Paris Agreement’s target is meant to reflect long-term temperature rise, as measured over a substantial period. So one year’s average temperatures, no matter how high, are not enough in themselves to prove the planet is on an irreversible course toward greater warming. 

Nevertheless, the UN’s latest statistic is deeply concerning. It is one more example of the profound climate disruption we are already witnessing around us. U.S. government agencies have confirmed that 2023 was the hottest year ever recorded. Many U.S. residents have been struck by the eerily high temperatures that prevailed this winter throughout the country’s Midwest. This strange “year without a winter” may be attributed in part to the temporary coincidence of the El Niño weather pattern. But scientists also note that it is inseparable from longer-term warming trends on a planetary scale. 

The effects this global temperature rise will have on our communities is in no way hypothetical. UUSC’s partners are already facing involuntary displacement from their homes, due to the effects of climate change. In the years ahead, these climate impacts are going to become even more widespread and severe. One recent study showed that 32 coastal cities in the United States, home to an estimated 40% of the country’s population, could be affected by increased flooding and land subsidence in coming decades due to sea-level rise and resource depletion. 

Even as the evidence of climate change continues to mount, however, policymakers are still managing to close their eyes to these threats. Recent trends in the United States risk undoing decades of progress toward containing the effects of climate change. U.S. consumer appetite for clean alternatives to fossil fuel-burning cars has plateaued. The country’s growing addiction to generative AI technology—one key factor behind the recent stock market boom—risks increasing the country’s energy needs and its dependence on fossil fuels, at just the time when the planet can least afford it. 

Politicians are also trying to reverse some of the most important steps toward a clean energy future that the Biden administration has made. House Speaker Mike Johnson is pushing measures to undo the president’s moratorium on exporting liquified natural gas (LNG)—a fossil fuel that contributes an outsized share of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

Reporters speculate that Johnson sees such a measure as a victory for his home state of Louisiana. But UUSC’s partners in Louisiana are already forced to leave their homes because of exactly the sort of planet-warming policies that Johnson supports. LNG terminals play a role in the global climate disruptions that are already causing large parts of coastal Louisiana to sink into the sea—disruptions that will only become worse in the decades ahead, unless politicians commit seriously to reducing carbon emissions. 

Even if politicians are asleep at the switch before the looming climate disaster, however—our partners are not. They are already doing their part to protect their communities from the effects of climate change and to advocate for policies that will mitigate climate change and compensate communities for the irreversible loss and damage that it has caused. Learn more about their work and support their efforts here. A contribution to UUSC helps us to resource and facilitate their work. 

Image credit: UUSC

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