The warning is not only coming with unusual certainty but there is a clearer message that the world is failing in its pursuit to meet the Paris Climate Agreement.
Sudden global crises are becoming more frequent, just as in geopolitics, digital technologies and global economics. The way out of those crises is however not possible that abruptly. The pandemic of Covid-19 too came abruptly without any early warning and was initially dealt with through tentative efforts, by wearing masks, washing hands and keeping social distancing, till the world finally acted by developing vaccines.
The climate crisis does not fall under the ‘abrupt’ category. The WMO-World Meteorological Organization-on 17th May 2023 has given an early and the clearest warning that should shake the world off its complacency, if any. It is about extreme climate change. Sadly, but/surely, this climate pandemic cannot be tackled by wearing masks, washing hands, and not even by vaccine.
Turn the pages of the history book back to World War II, August 6, 1945. The record shows that it was a bright sunny and uncomfortably warm day in Hiroshima in Japan. The residents there were receiving millions of leaflets dropped from American planes. Those leaflets warned the citizens that dangerous bombs may be used in the ongoing war and hence they should evacuate the city. Those leaflets were printed on the reverse side of the paper with the image of currency notes in the front. The leaflets were designed to get the attention of the public on the dangers of imminent attacks and to shake off their complacency. Interestingly, the leaflets were called ‘LeMay Leaflets’ after American General Curtis LeMay, who designed them.
The citizens of Hiroshima, though anxious, ignored the early warnings. They considered the leaflets as part of routine alarms during the war period or as the enemy’s tactics of scaremongering. There was also complacency that ‘governments are there to take care’. The citizens snoozed!
The sky literally came falling that day at 8:15 am. The city was levelled by atomic bombs dropped on the city by American fighter planes to create “brief reincarnations of distant suns’, as described by some. The uncomfortably warm day became an inferno. The world for the first time came to know the meaning of ‘erasing the city to the ground’.
The LeMay warning on climate
WMO’s latest report released just now, on 17th May 2023, is very much like the LeMay warning leaflets of 1945. The contents of that report are a warning of the ticking climate bomb. The official title of the report is ‘Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update’. It provides a synthesis of the global annual and decadal ( 5-10 years) predictions provided by the WMO‘s several centres spread across the world. Interestingly, the report does not suggest the evacuation, but it clearly signals that it is time to shake off complacency.
“There is a 66% likelihood that the annual global average temperature between 2023 and 2027 will be more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for at least one year”, the report stated. It further said that there exists a 98 per cent likelihood that at least one of the next five years will be the warmest on record in human history. it further observed. This is the first time that any UN organisation has warned humanity with such a definite prediction amidst chaotic atmospheric chemistry.
Other significant observations by WMO have concluded that:
The El Niño, the impact of which increases global temperatures in the year after it develops, would aggravate temperature from December to February 2023/24 and after that.
The Arctic temperature would be warming is disproportionately high relative to the 1991-2020 average and is predicted to be more than three times as large in the next five winters, in the northern hemisphere affecting Europe, Japan and North America.
Predicted precipitation patterns for 2023 relative to the 1991-2020 average would be extremely high and extremely low.
Unfortunately, there is no possibility of evacuation of citizens to ward them off from the ticking climate bomb. The fact is there is no Planet B where the climate-affected population from Planet A would be evacuated. Even within planet A, our Earth, a number of governments are not willing to accept the current climate evacuees, in spite of the fact that those governments are the most responsible for the climate crisis. And those seeking refuge have contributed the least to climate change. In such gross global injustice, perennial inaction till now is predicted to continue.
What should worry everyone after WMO’s latest ‘LeMay’type warning is the observation that ‘ global temperatures are likely to enter into uncharted territory. This will have far-reaching repercussions for health, food security, water management and the environment. "We need to be prepared’, is a warning by WMO’s Secretary General Prof Petteri Talas.
Whither Paris Climate Agreement?
The warning is not only coming with unusual certainty but there is a clearer message that the world is failing in its pursuit to meet the Paris Climate Agreement. The Paris Agreement calls for all countries to nearly halve the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050 to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2°C while pursuing efforts to limit the increase even further to 1.5°C. If we fail to achieve this, the adverse and catastrophic impacts and related losses and damages would be beyond expectations. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already stated in its special report that climate-related risks for global warming are more life-threatening, particularly to small island countries and least developed countries higher at 1.5 °C than 2 °C.
“This report does not mean that we will permanently exceed the 1.5°C level specified in the Paris Agreement which refers to long-term warming over many years. However, WMO is sounding the alarm that we will breach the 1.5°C level on a temporary basis with increasing frequency,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas, while releasing the report. The chance of temporarily exceeding 1.5°C has risen steadily since 2015 when it was close to zero. For the years between 2017 and 2021, there was a 10 per cent chance of exceedance. “Global mean temperatures are predicted to continue increasing, moving us away further and further away from the climate we are used to, WMO stated in its report.
Opportunity for G20
Unfortunately, though the planetary-scale climate crisis is knocking at our doors, we are likely to ignore the ‘Taalas leaflets’ dropped by WMO warning us of ticking climate-time bombs. The global population was likely to consider those leaflets as routine alarms or scare-mongering. The complacency is likely to prevail thinking that ‘governments are there to take care’. The citizens would snooze.
Would the world take these ‘Taalas-leaflets’ seriously? Would the world now get the acts together and deploy the mechanisms available to United Nations Security Council, General Assembly, and global groupings like G 7, G 20 and APEC and take action to avoid global catastrophe?
There are other leaflets falling down from the sky. Those leaflets have positive messages. Would the world then take note of the advantage of the steep fall in prices of renewable energy and accelerate the transformation by deploying digital technologies and AI? Would G20 which represents 85 per cent of global GDP, 75 per cent of international trade and two-thirds of the world's population, 80 per cent of global greenhouse emissions and 80 percent of the world’s forest cover, go beyond ‘faction within faction’ approach, wash off the ceremonial colour to these meetings and start collective ‘evacuation of the inaction’ as a response to ‘Taalas leaflets’?
The world needs a ‘how-to manual’ to defuse the ticking climate bomb. G20 - hosted by India this year - has the opportunity to start writing that manual and acting on it as a matter of action against the climate pandemic.
(The author is a noted environmentalist who is a former Director UNEP and Founder Director Green TERRE Foundation, Pune, India. Views are personal)