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Red Alert: New report confirms planetary heating is accelerating

Brian Champ

April 5, 2024
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has declared a red alert. Their recent State of the Global Climate 2023 report confirmed that 2023 was the hottest year on record with a global average temperature of 1.45 ± 0.12 °C above the pre-industrial baseline (PIB - 30 year average for 1850-1900). This is even more worrying because it reaches the 1.5 °C threshold that was the red line agreed to in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreements.
The last 9 years are the warmest on record and the oceans are the hottest since monitoring began 65 years ago. Oceans are more acidic than at any time in the last 26,000 years. Antarctic sea ice extent is the lowest ever recorded. Ice sheets and glaciers continue to melt at an alarming rate.
Sea levels are the highest ever recorded and rising at more than twice the rate as a few decades ago.
Precipitation patterns are chaotic, with some regions experiencing above normal precipitation leading to catastrophic floods while others marked by a rainfall deficit and drought conditions.
Human costs
Extreme weather is driving severe socio-economic impacts worldwide. Extreme heat affected wide areas of the globe, driving wildfires that have led to loss of life, home destruction and air pollution. Canada’s record wildfires dominated headlines here, but the world’s single deadliest wildfire last year occurred in Hawaii on the west side of Maui. Caused by existing drought conditions interacting with strong, dry winds influenced by Hurricane Dora well to the south, it killed 100 people, destroying the town of Lahaina. 2,200 structures were lost and 7,500 people evacuated.
Tropical cyclone Freddy formed off the coast of Australia in early February and traveled over 8,000 km in just over five weeks, impacting Mauritius and Reunion in the Indian ocean before making landfall in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi on the east coast of Africa. More than 1,400 people were killed, over 2,000 injured and close to 2 million displaced with Malawi, in the midst of a cholera epidemic, being the worst hit with the storm undermining clean water supplies and food production. Public infrastructure and housing had hardly been rebuilt after the death and devastation of tropical cyclone Idai in March, 2019.
The Mediterranean cyclone, or Medicane, Daniel wreaked havoc in Greece, Bulgaria and Türkiye but hit Libya particularly hard – catastrophic floods in the city of Derna caused by the rains and the failure of two Dams killed at least 4,700 people, with 8,000 still missing and over 40,000 displaced.
Once again an international scientific body concludes that “increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activities have been the major driver of climate change since the industrial revolution.”
Climate emergencies occur everywhere but the most vulnerable people, especially in the Global South are also the least responsible for carbon emissions. This report is an urgent call for climate action to avoid even worse disasters.
But capitalism is addicted to fossil fuels, because they ensure the profits of the tiny minority in control. States at best pay lip service to taking action to decarbonize their economies, but refuse to actively work to phase out fossil fuels. Infrastructure investments continue to perpetuate their dominance, even as climate policies are championed that rely on ineffective market mechanisms that allow fossil fuel production and consumption to continue indefinitely when more drastic measures are needed.
Canadian political response
In Canada, this manifests itself in mainstream politics between Tory and Liberal positions around the carbon tax at a time when surely the nationalization of fossil fuels for the purpose of phasing them out needs to be on the table.
We have the absurdity of a Liberal climate plan that is built around pipelines so that fracked gas and tar sands bitumen can be exported and thus don’t end up in Canada’s carbon budget. And the BC NDP government is a major enabler of these policies, calling in the RCMP to ensure that pipelines are built without the “free, prior and informed consent” of Indigenous peoples.
And both Tory and Liberal parties support carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) though it is unproven technology. Two days after the WMO report the Pathways Alliance, a consortium of tar sands producers, filed their first major regulatory application to pursue a $16 Billion CCUS project in Alberta. They’ve pursued this project, taking advantage of tax credits and subsidies made available in the Liberal government climate plan.
According to the Pembina Institute in a report published last November, 85 kg CO2e are emitted for every barrel of oil produced in Canada. If CCUS works these “upstream” emissions would be kept out of the atmosphere. But there are the over 400 kg CO2equivalent per barrel emitted “downstream” when the fuel is consumed. Therefore, over 80% of the greenhouse gases from the tar sands would end up in the atmosphere, and these “climate” tax incentives and subsidies for CCUS guarantee further emissions.
Liberal and NDP climate plans do not confront the climate crisis in any real way – rather, they are a screen for continuing Harper era “energy superpower” policies. And there is a real danger of a Tory government in the future under Polievre that would see even worse climate policies enacted. These dangers are made evident by the climate denial politics of Danielle Smith in Alberta and Doug Ford in Ontario.
There is hope. It is in a resurgence of movements for climate justice from below that can bring together Indigenous sovereignty struggles, grassroots environmental movements and continuing strikes by workers against inflation. This mass movement can challenge the bosses who would rather burn the planet than give up their oil and blood soaked profit.

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