The fact that global warming exists is no longer doubted by anyone.
But differences persist among academics about the extent to which global warming is caused by natural processes and by human activity.
The energy transition and plans by developed countries to abandon the use of carbon-based energy sources have placed the discussion in a new setting.
Now, prominent climatologists ate trying to resolve the following question: Can world-wide efforts by the world community to reduce greenhouse gases have a serious effect on climate within the deadlines set down by the Paris climate accord?
“On Earth, from the very moment the planet came into being, warmer periods were mixed with colder periods, including when influenced by solar radiation, volcanic eruptions and changes in the natural level of carbon dioxide.
From the middle of the 20th century, the speed of climate change rose to previously unseen levels. As for natural reasons, such as changes in solar radiation or volcanic activity, their effect on warming has totalled only 0.1 degrees Celsius from 1890 to 2010. NASA’s assessment is that ‘natural factors remain a consideration, but their influence too small and their effect too slow-acting to be considered a reason behind the abrupt warming of recent decades,” said Marta Bonifert, Vice-president of the Hungarian Institute of Directors and member of the Global Consultative Consultative Council of Tokyo University.
According to data from scientists at Cambridge University, in 2020, the average annual concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached the level of 415 million to one – an unprecedented event in the geological history of Earth – at least over the last three million years.
“The last time such a high concentration of CO2 was observed was during the Pliocene epoch (from 9 to 2 million years ago) which coincided with an extremely warm climate, with temperatures, on average, 3 degrees Celsius higher than now and unusually high sea levels – 15-30 metres higher than at present,” said Vladimir Klimenko, head of the Laboratory of Global Energy Problems of the National Research University, Environmental Engineering Resesrch at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
A key contributing factor in the increase in CO2 concentrations is the anthropogenic, or human, factor.
“Humankind has an ever increasing influence on climate and the temperature of the earth’s surface, by burning fossil fuels, felling forests and raising livestock,” said Leena Srivastava, Deputy Director General for Science at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
“Carbon dioxide formed as a result of human activity is a major contributor to global warming. By 2020, its concentration had risen 48 % in comparison with the pre-industrial period (up to 1750).”
“According to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen oxides have risen to levels unprecedented for at least 800,000 years.”
The danger of nature
The increase in concentrations of greenhouse gases and, consequently, climate change, pose a threat in the first instance to humankind itself.
“Losses from natural disasters in 2020 were much more significant than in the previous year, including a record number of natural calamities – powerful hurricanes, major forest fires and a series of torrential rainfalls. Altogether, world-wide natural disasters caused $210 billion in damage – of which $82 billion was covered by insurance. Floods in China caused the greatest individual damage if $17 billion, of which only 2 % was insured,” said Bonifert.
In addition, the gradual melting of Arctic glaciers is proceeding, particularly in its eastern part. The world’s oceans rose by 20 cm, leading to the gradual inundation of useable land area. And at the same time, the melting of permafrost is being observed in northern regions of Eurasia – creating difficulties in construction and in development of those areas.
Success or working for nothing?
It is therefore in the interests of humankind to slow down the processes ofglobal warming.
“The climate change problem that we are trying to address is almost entirely due to human activity. Natural variations in climate are netted out of these considerations. Therefore, the solution to this problem also lies squarely on the human race,” said Srivastava.
But just how effective the efforts of the world community are remain an open question.
“Global warning cannot be stopped overnight, or even in the course of the next few decades,” said Bonifert.
“Even if emissions were stopped entirely, the temperature of the earth’s surface would still rise by 0.6 degrees Celsius over the next few decades before it would stop climbing.”
Even if, by 2050, CO2 emissions were reduced to zero, their concentration in the atmosphere would increase by inertia for some time.
“The concentration would reach its maximum of a little more than 500 million-1 in the first half of the 22nd century,” Klimenko said. “Afterwards, It would start to decline slowly through absorption of extra carbon by the atmosphere, the oceans and the land biota as well as by virtue of the technology of carbon storage.”
Therefore, Strivasava says, U.N. appeals for yet another toughening of the climate agenda will be heeded by many of the players involved.
“The nationally-determined contributions committees so far are going to result in a global average temperature increase of well above 2 degrees- still at 2.4 degrees C after accounting for some recent enhanced commitments made by countries,” she said.
“Therefore, the call for significantly raising the global ambition by the United Nations will be backed by several other actors.”
This could, in turn, spark the development of not only renewable energy, but also new geo and bio engineering technologies, as well as the formation of a new climatic economy.