News this week about the planet rapidly approaching the critical global-warming threshold of a 1.5°C rise above pre-industrial levels has frightened and dismayed many.
The report from World Meteorological Organisation scientists was published shortly after the world's fourth-warmest April since records began in 1950 and months ahead of the Cop28 summit in the UAE. Although some may fall into despondency at the enormity of the climate challenge, a closer look provides important context.
The rapid approach to this serious juncture has not been unexpected. An analysis from the UK Met Office in November last year claimed pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions agreed to at the Cop26 climate change conference in Glasgow were unlikely to keep the global temperature rise to 1.5°C. The Met Office study, published in the journal Weather, claimed there was greater likelihood the world would pass the 1.5°C figure and then come back down to it by 2100.
This is not to downplay the serious changes that are taking place on our planet. The effects of climate change are already being felt in extreme weather phenomena and the economic, security and political problems that they can lead to. But important events like Cop28, the continuing innovation in finding solutions to mitigate climate change and the near-universal acceptance of global warming as an existential threat should go some way to reassuring people that there is still a way out.
Some countries have shown great determination and tenacity in tackling climate change. Last month, The National reported on eight nations that either achieved their net-zero emissions targets or substantially reduced their carbon footprint. Among them was Gabon – the world’s second-largest carbon sink after the Amazon – which has enacted policies to prevent deforestation and manage its natural resources sustainably. In South America, Guyana reached its net-zero goals in 2021. And while it recently became an oil producer, it has also removed subsidies from fossil-fuel production.
Closer to home, the UAE government – which aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 – and companies that are based here are investing heavily in renewable forms of energy, such as solar power and hydrogen. In March it was reported that the Emirates is examining 28 hydrogen projects, of which seven have passed the financing stage. Smaller-scale projects are also using considerable ingenuity to turn the tide on climate change. One such project is that launched by Abu Dhabi organisation Terrax to turn landfill waste – a significant source of greenhouse gases – into a replacement for plywood.
It is true that the task seems daunting. A recent study by market research company Ipsos found that although sustainability still ranks within the top five issues of importance in many countries, there is also a growing feeling of despondence among people as to how much impact they can make on an individual level.
Dubai will host Cop28 in November, but the emphasis on finding solutions has already been laid down. Last month President Sheikh Mohamed told world leaders attending a virtual climate event hosted by US President Joe Biden that Cop28 will move beyond setting goals to achieving them.
The summit will also provide an opportunity for a global stocktake of where we are. Although the news is likely to be sobering, this does not justify falling into a state of fatalism. Headlines only give one part of the story. When it comes to the tale of climate change, we are very far from the final chapter. More importantly, how the story ends is still in our hands.