Climate alarm bells ringing loud as planet enters uncharted territory in 2024 – in charts & graphs

Climate alarm bells ringing loud as planet enters uncharted territory in 2024 – in charts & graphs
Life on planet Earth is under siege. We are now in an uncharted territory. 2023 was the hottest on record and saw escalating extreme weather catastrophes. 2024 will be worse, warn scientists. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin February 28, 2024

“Life on planet Earth is under siege. We are now in an uncharted territory. For several decades, scientists have consistently warned of a future marked by extreme climatic conditions because of escalating global temperatures caused by ongoing human activities that release harmful greenhouse gases [GHGs] into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, time is up. We are seeing the manifestation of those predictions as an alarming and unprecedented succession of climate records are broken.”

So begins a paper in the American Institute of Biological Sciences on the effects of climate change; not the sort of sober language that you usually find at the start of an academic paper in a scientific journal.

But scientists have become more than alarmed. The predictions of an impending climate change-driven catastrophe are unfolding in front of their eyes. The point of no return still lies in the future, but it is approaching rapidly. And what worries the scientists is that by using their sophisticated tools that allowed them to predict the current crisis so acutely decades ago, those same tools are saying not enough is being done to keep global warming to the 1.5C limit set by the Paris Accords in 2015.

More poignantly 2023 was already a record-breaking year that saw multiple extreme weather events that killed tens of thousands of people and caused hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of damage.

2024 is going to be worse.

Hot Land

For the first time ever, global warming 1.55C above the pre-industrial baseline for an entire year in 2023, according to the EU’s earth observation programme Copernicus reporting on February 17. This year is already on course to easily beat that record.




Surface temperatures anomaly 1941 2024 degrees above 1850-1900 IPCC baseline

“The area of the globe that was warmer than average in 2023 is astounding. Basically, the whole globe. The percentage of record temperatures covered was also unprecedented. 2024 is set to be even hotter. Be prepared for climate bombs globally in the coming months,” says climatologist Peter Dynes in a tweet. “The large blue area at the bottom of the globe [in the chart below] looks very likely to be due to huge ice melt water coming from Antarctica. Also hugely concerning in terms of sea level rise.”


Record high temperatures were recorded over almost entire world in 2023


At the Paris climate summit in 2015 world leaders promised to try to limit the long-term temperature rise to 1.5C, which is seen as crucial to avoid a climate catastrophe, and that target is being missed.

Technically, the first year-long breach of the 1.5C cap doesn't break the Paris agreement, but as the world approaches this crucial red line the effects of devastating changes in global weather are already visible.


Hot Seas

Last year saw bathtub-warm sea temperatures that rose to all-time highs. This year the first months of this year saw temperatures that have already smashed all records again.

The average temperature of the sea was 21.05C as of February 3, by far the hottest it has ever been at that time of the year and hotter than the hottest point in all of 2023 of 21.02C set in the middle of last summer on August 23.

“Global sea surface temperatures are once again in record territory, yesterday at 21.11°C, a temperature not seen in any year prior to 2024,” said Professor Eliot Jacobson, a climatologist, tweeting on February 4.



Global sea temperatures started 2024 at a fresh all time high


Tipping points 


The currents that circulate in the Atlantic are approaching a “tipping point” that will bring them to a halt sometime between now and 2050, according to climatologists. The so-called AMOC (Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) carries warm water from the equator up to the north. If the AMOC stops flowing, a mini-ice age will descend on Europe as winter temperatures plunge by as much as an addition 30C in the coldest months, say experts.

Halting the AMOC will also radically change weather and rainfall patterns all over the world, drastically changing the climate in many countries, including the Amazon jungle, and could cause a cascade of environmental disasters.

Climatologist Leon Simmons warns that the AMOC is already reaching close to the -0.77PW reduction in heat transported northward associated with its tipping point. Many factors go into the slowing of the AMOC, so no one is confident of predicting exactly when it will stop, but a recent study using the most sophisticated modelling techniques yet concluded the AMOC will reach this tipping point by 2050 with 95% certainty.



AMOC is already approaching its tipping point


Linked to the collapse of the AMOC scientists also warn that the Amazon is also approaching a tipping point.

South America was plagued by a record hot summer season this year, but the rising temperatures have been changing the weather systems since the 1980s and threatening the Amazon jungle that is a major source of the world’s oxygen.

Peripheral and central parts of the Amazon Forest are drying significantly, such as in the southern Bolivian Amazon, where annual rainfall reduced by up to 20mm per year. By contrast, parts of the western and eastern Amazon Forest are becoming wetter, with annual rainfall increasing by up to 20mm/yr. If these trends continue, ecosystem stability will probably change in parts of the Amazon by 2050, reshaping forest resilience to disturbances, say scientists.

Between 2021 and 2022, the global tree cover loss rate declined 9.7% to 22.8mn hectares per year. The Amazon Forest loss rate decreased by 11.3% to 1.16mn ha per year, and further reductions are anticipated. However, humanity is not on track to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, despite pledges by more than 100 world leaders in 2021 at COP26. Forests are increasingly threatened by powerful climate feedback loops involving processes such as insect damage, dieback and wildfire.

“The possibility that the Amazon Forest system could soon reach a tipping point, inducing large-scale collapse, has raised global concern,” warns Simmons. “For 65mn years, Amazonian forests remained relatively resilient to climatic variability. Now the region is increasingly exposed to unprecedented stress from warming temperatures, extreme droughts, deforestation and fires, even in central and remote parts of the system,” a recent study in Nature warned.

The warming world has resulted in long established weather patterns giving way to novel feedbacks that modify ecosystem resilience, increasing the risk of critical transition. The study in Nature warned that if these tipping points are passed it would trigger “regional or even biome-wide forest collapse.”




0224 LatAm amazon temperature maps bneGreen


“The Amazon Forest should absorb more CO2, but now it's turning into a source of CO2, and it's starting to emit more CO2 than it absorbs because of deforestation,” says Simmons.

Climate heath indicators off the chart

The record-breaking temperature changes have sent all the climate indicators that scientists use to measure the health of the planet off the charts. The charts below shows the main indicators and the reds lines are the 2023 anomalies.

Not only have records been broken but indicators like sea ice coverage (a, b), average global temperatures (c-e), and the area of burnt forest in Canada (f) are all far outside their historical ranges. These indicators already show a completely new climate set-up.

“We are venturing into uncharted climate territory. Global daily mean temperatures never exceeded 1.5°C above preindustrial levels prior to 2000 and have only occasionally exceeded that number since then. However, 2023 has already seen 38 days with global average temperatures above 1.5°C by 12 September – more than any other year – and the total may continue to rise. Even more striking are the enormous margins by which 2023 conditions are exceeding past extremes,” William J Ripple et al wrote in their paper The 2023 state of the climate report: Entering uncharted territory for BioScience.

Similarly, on 7 July 2023 Antarctic sea ice reached its lowest daily relative extent since the advent of satellite data, at 2.67mn square kilometres below the 1991-2023 average. So much forest burnt in Canada last year that the authors speculate that a tipping point there may have already been passed into a “new fire regime.”

Other regions are also seeing more fires. Russia and the US are both prone to this and have large forests that regularly burn out of control for months. Between 2021 and 2022, the area burned by wildfires globally decreased 28% (from 9.34mn ha to 6.72mn ha), but wildfire activity in the United State rose by 6.3% (from 2.88mn ha to 3.07mn ha) over the same period.

More generally, in the last year 20 of the 35 climate vital signs in the next figure are now showing record extremes. These show how the continued pursuit of business as usual has, ironically, led to unprecedented pressure on the Earth system, resulting in many climate-related variables entering uncharted territory.

Year-to-date statistics for 2023 show that the three important GHGs – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – are all already at record levels. The global average carbon dioxide concentration is now approximately 420 parts per million, which is far above the proposed planetary boundary of 350 parts per million.

Although fossil fuel-related GHG emissions are the main driver of rising temperatures, a global decline in sulphur dioxide emissions – ironically largely due to a clean-up of shipping diesel – is also contributing factor. As bne IntelliNews reported, while reducing SO2 seems to be an obvious beneficial thing to do, the smog that it produces very effectively reflects sunlight. Now that smog is gone, the sun is heating the earth faster than it can radiate heat into space, leading to a net increase in global temperatures, shifting what is known as the Earth Energy Imbalance (EEI). This clean-up operation has actually accelerated global warming.

Ocean acidity, glacier thickness and the Greenland ice mass all fell to record lows, whereas sea level rise and ocean heat content soared to record highs. Fish and coral reefs are already dying in large numbers. And warmer seas are likely to fuel more and bigger storms, to the point that meteorologists are expecting to see the first ever city-killing category six hurricanes soon, possibly this year.

Climate health indicators are all off the chart


Climate vital signs are off the chart - 1 





Climate vital signs are off the chart – 2


Climate disasters

This year’s climate disaster season is already underway as another dzud hits Mongolia, the notorious super-winters that plague the country, and has killed off 2.9mn head of cattle that froze to death on their feet. Usually dzuds hit Mongolia infrequently, but more recently they have arrived every other year, killing the cattle and yaks that are the livelihood of the still largely nomadic herders.

As Mongolia comes to terms with the still unfolding catastrophe, discussion has turned to how climate change appears to have intensified both the severity and frequency of dzuds, a severe combination of a dry hot summer and icy winter that is unique to Mongolia and causes enormous damages to the nation’s nomadic herders.

Russian regions

Russia a lot more vulnerable to climate change that other parts of the planet. Russia’s permafrost is melting as Russia’s coldest regions are warming up to seven times faster than the rest of the world.

Many of Russia’s regions will be badly affected by climate change in diverse ways, with some hit much harder than others, according to a study co-authored by Moscow-based climatologist Alexander Chernokulsky and economist Igor Makarov, the Moscow Times reports.

Town and cities inside the permafrost regions will be damaged or destroyed as the ice through which supporting foundation piles are driven turns to mud. Railways and Russia’s extensive gas and oil pipelines will likewise shift, crack or be destroyed in damage that will costs tens of billions of dollars to repair. One study estimated the cost of the damage could run to a trillion dollars or more.

While many will welcome the chaos melting permafrost will cause to Russia’s energy industry, the impact on the rest of the world could be catastrophic. The temperature of the permafrost is around -3C at the moment and it was increasing by about one degree every decade until recently. But the rate of warming has accelerated rapidly in just the last few years, and when it reaches zero, gigatonnes of CO2 that has been trapped in the ice for millennia will be released all at once, causing a step-change in the make-up of the atmosphere in an irreversible event with unpredictable consequences.

Warmer weather will also affect agriculture, which has become a strategically important sector, and Russia the biggest grain exporter in the world. The crop-producing republics of Chuvashia and Tatarstan, as well as the Omsk region, all declared a state of emergency in 2023 after drought destroyed seedlings and wrecked the harvest. Major grain-producing regions such as the Rostov, Krasnodar and Stavropol regions, which already face water shortages, are likely to see worsening conditions due to climate change.

Nothing being done

The coronavirus lockdowns in 2020 saw emissions crash and inspired optimism that the 1.5C target was going to be easily reached. But emissions were down but not out. The post-pandemic recovery turned into a boom and carbon emissions bounced back to set fresh all-time highs. Fossil fuels remain dominant, with annual coal consumption reaching a near all-time high of 161.5 exajoules in 2022, and global oil consumption is now likely to reach a record high level of 105mn barrels per day (bpd) in 2024, according to Rystad, an energy consultancy.

The COP28 summit mentioned reducing fossil fuel for the first time, but the commitment was weak and the language vague, giving energy companies plenty of wiggle room to ignore their commitments. The US played a key role in drafting the commitment, but at the same time in 2023 became the world’s biggest producer and exporter of both oil and LNG.

Europe was also committed to phasing out coal and fossil fuels, but thanks to its clash with Russia, it has bizarrely shuttered its six nuclear power stations, some of the most powerful and efficient in the world, and restarted dozens of coal-fired power plants as well as imported record amounts of LNG to cover its energy needs.

On top of that, right-wing parties are expected to greatly increase their presence in the European parliament in elections in a few months’ time largely at the expense of the green parties, which may be ejected from the parliament completely. Political analysts are predicting Europe’s commitment to climate friendly policies may stall or be reversed completely as a result.

In the US, former President Donald Trump, who has a long record of climate denial, is the frontrunner to challenge President Joe Biden in November. On the campaign trail, Trump has minimised the effects of climate change, attacked electric vehicles and pledged to repeal Biden’s signature climate law.