When is the deadline for us to act on climate change?

Adella – Year 11 Student

Editor’s Note: This insightful essay from Year 11 student Adella deals with pertinent questions surrounding climate change, using geographical and photographic evidence to lay out the changes that the planet has faced, and the need for our modern society to act now in order to prevent a worsening of the situation. Mei (Year 12) – Chief Editor, Humanities Journal

Climate change is increasingly becoming more recognised as a global crisis that threatens not only the natural world, but also our very own survival. Scientists have been attempting to predict when it will be too late to prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change and there have been many possibilities. Some believe that we may have already passed the tipping point, whereas others said in 2018 that it would be in 12 years. Subsequently, in July 2019, the BBC released an article titled: ‘Climate change: 12 years to save the planet? Make that 18 months.’ This leads us to the key question: when is the deadline for climate change?

In September 2018, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate released a report, which suggested that by 2030, we will pass the point of no return for runaway global warming. This is the effect any warming might have on promoting further warming; causing a global tipping point to be reached at which global warming would become unstoppable thus setting a 12-year deadline. The report warned that we are reaching an unacceptable level and that “[b]y 2030, we will pass the point by which we can keep global average temperature rise to well below 2°C”. It also concluded that exceeding the 1.5°C mark by even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of floods, droughts, extreme weather and poverty, stressing that action taken in the next few years will be crucial in deciding the fate of our planet. The IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report mapped out four different ways to achieve the 1.5°C goal by 2030. These plans involved different combinations of land use and technological change, which are said to be affordable and feasible but ambitious. These solutions described reforestation as being essential, as well as the shift to electric transport systems and the adoption of a wider range of new carbon capture technology.

However, in 2019, many experts began to think that 2020 was a more accurate deadline. One of the most understated headlines in the IPCC report from 2018 was that ‘global emissions of carbon dioxide must peak by 2020 to keep the planet below 1.5°C.’ At the current rate, we are heading towards 3°C of warming by 2100; double that of the 1.5°C mark that was set. A top climate scientist, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a German atmospheric physicist and the founder/director of the Potsdam Climate Institute, has addressed the idea of 2020 as a firm deadline. Back in 2017, he stated that, “[w]hile the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence until 2020.” Schellnhuber is clearly suggesting that severe action must be taken by the end of 2020 to save our planet. Furthermore, at a reception for Commonwealth foreign ministers in July 2019, Prince Charles said, “I am firmly of the view that the next 18 months will decide our ability to keep climate change to survivable levels and to restore nature to the equilibrium we need for our survival”. This concurs with Schellnhuber’s view, supporting the end of 2020 as a crucial deadline for our planet and the survival of humanity as a whole.

Despite these somewhat morbid predictions, there are still many reasons to remain hopeful. Due to the rise of the likes of Greta Thunberg and the Youth Strikes for Climate Movement, climate change awareness is rapidly growing and more people are demanding change from leaders, causing countries to put climate deadlines in place. On 1st May 2019, the UK government declared a climate emergency, setting a target to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050 from the figures recorded in 1990. On 28th November 2018, the European Commission presented their long-term strategy for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. This plan involves investing in realistic technological solutions, empowering citizens, and aligning action in key areas such as finance, industrial policy and research. Taking these actions will put the European Union in line with the Paris Agreement objective of keeping the global temperature increase below 2°C as well as pursuing efforts to keep warming to 1.5°C.

Moreover, in the last few months, with most of the world in lockdown, the planet has been given time to recuperate, and we can already see some significant improvements in the environment. This proves that it is possible to prevent climate disaster. In many urban areas around the world, air pollution levels have dropped since lockdown measures have been put in place. For example, in Venice, the water in the canals is far cleaner due to the lack of boats on the water. In New Delhi, India, the sky is visibly much clearer than it has been in years since the population went into lockdown.

The air pollution at India Gate in New Delhi, India, in October 2019 (top) compared with April 2020 (bottom). [CNN: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/31/asia/coronavirus-lockdown-impact-pollution-india-intl-hnk/index.html]

Although many environmentalists are saying that it is premature to celebrate these short-term impacts, as despite some promising results, the planet would have to maintain these levels of emissions in order to see further progress. Sadly, this shall be very challenging for the world to do when it comes out of lockdown. In China, the pollution levels are back on the rise as their lockdown restrictions have been relaxed, proving this point.

In conclusion, there is no simple, fixed deadline for climate change; it is the planet’s response to our actions and the effects of it which are being seen at different rates around the world. However, it is obvious that by the end of 2020, the world needs to have taken radical action to reduce emissions. It is important to remember that this does not mean that the world will end at the close of this year, but we are constantly approaching a tipping point, which we will not know we have reached until we hit it. Thus, the best time for us to act is right now.

Adella 927568


[1] https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/strategies/2050_en

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-48964736

[3] https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2018-09-10/secretary-generals-remarks-climate-change-delivered

[4] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/royal-family/2019/07/11/18-months-save-world-prince-charles-urges-commonwealth-leaders/

[5] https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/runaway-climate-change-2030-report_n_5b8ecba3e4b0162f4727a09f?ri18n=true

[6] https://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report

[8] https://www.ft.com/content/052923d2-78c2-11ea-af44-daa3def9ae03

[9] https://www.peterrussell.com/Earth/RunawayCC.php

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