COP28: All the climate crisis warning lights flashing red – in charts and maps

COP28: All the climate crisis warning lights flashing red – in charts and maps
Global warming is accelerating and all the vital signs are flashing red. The world's leaders meet at COP28 but the scientists warn that it is almost too late to stop the process. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin November 29, 2023

On the Climate Crisis dashboard 20 out of the 35 vital indicators of the environment’s health are flashing red. The great and good have assembled in UAE’s capital of Dubai for the COP28 conference to hash out a plan to avert the looming environmental disaster, but its probably too late.

The Climate Crisis is here and the chances of averting a disaster are dwindling rapidly – although they have not disappeared entirely. Report after report issued by multinational development banks, government’s and NGOs conclude that unless an enormous effort is made in the next few years and literally trillions of dollars are invested then the world will sail past the 1.5C maximum temperature increases mandated by the Paris Accords in 2015 that will have “serious” consequences.

The UN’s recent global stocktake report, the most comprehensive study of climate change that will also be used as the basis of the upcoming COP28 meeting, was specific that there are two years left to act.  Trillions of dollars need to be invested in order to stave off disaster.

Likewise, another report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that earth’s energy imbalance (EEI), the excess amounts of energy the earth absorbs from the sun, has doubled between 2005 and 2015. The planet is literally starting to cook.

Another report concluded that the global community needs to make changes the equivalent of what was done in the Industrial Revolution, “but in the next ten years.” A UN report argued that the world’s fundamental economic model of endless growth and consumption has to see a root and branch remake to create a new “sustainable economic model”. As bne IntelliNews reported, our governments are failing us, as far too little is being done.

The decision to allow the UAE to host the event which is being run by Sultan al-Jaber who is also head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company has outraged climate activists as oil deals are already being reported on the sidelines of the gathering.

This year has seen an unbroken streak of record breaking tempertures above the long term average. In the Northern Hemisphere the temperatures have been 1.8°C above the 1979-2000 average for 140 consecutive days, with no sign of letting up. 

1123 GBL bneGreen Cliate air surface temperatures in the Northern hemisphere

A recent study by Stamford using AI to model climate events found that the Earth is likely to cross critical climate thresholds even if emissions decline from here. The model found that the world will cross the 1.5C threashold within 10-15 years even if emissions start falling from here, and  a 2C increase soon after that. Stanford professor Thomas Hansen said: “The magnitude of the currently observed warming is off the scale. Within a decade or so it will probably be 2 degrees.” Officially, the world is already 1.1C warmer on average than before the industrialisation took off.

Most of the reports are predicting that a temperature rise of 2C is now more likely, and after the rapid acceleration of temperature rises this summer that lead to unprecedented flooding and hurricanes that talk is already giving way to talk of a 3C rise above the long-term pre-industrial average by 2050. At those levels the Amazon forest dies. The polar ice caps melt. Oceans rise by tens of meters. And large swaths of the planet become uninhabitable.

Emissions at record highs 

All the reports also point to the ongoing use of fossil fuels are the main culprit. Instead of falling, apart from a noticeable drop during the pandemic lockdowns, emissions have soared to new all-time highs, according to the IMF.

When world leaders huddled in Paris to strike their climate deal in 2015, levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were near 402 parts per million - already enough to start causing problems. Today they’re approaching 420 parts per million, levels that scientists say the planet hasn’t seen since more than 4 million years ago, when seas were 25m  higher.

"It appears the green recovery following COVID-19 that many had hoped for has largely failed to materialize. Instead, carbon emissions have continued soaring, and fossil fuels remain dominant, with annual coal consumption reaching a near all-time high of 161.5 exajoules in 2022," reports Oxford University.

Although the consumption of renewable energy (solar and wind) grew a robust 17% between 2021 and 2022, it remains roughly 15 times lower than fossil fuel energy consumption.

0722 GBL IMF emissions rise to new record bneGreen climate crisis CO2

"On the basis of year-to-date statistics for 2023, three important greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide—are all at record levels,” Oxford University said in a recent paper. “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.”

And it is largely the Western world that is to blame. The impacts vary greatly by wealth; in 2019, the top 10% of emitters were responsible for 48% of global emissions, whereas the bottom 50% were responsible for just 12%, reports Oxford University. 

Only 11 developed countries have reduced emissions and none of those are anywhere close to hitting their Paris accord obligations to prevent global temperatures rising more than 1.5C before reaching zero in 2050. At the current rate of reduction, it will take more than 200 years for the developed world to reach carbon-zero, according to a study published in the Lancet.

Oil production is still climbing and marking a record year in the United States. The industry is even poised to gain from the green crusade as government’s pour billions into new energy subsides, rather than ending them. One study found that emissions would be quickly cut by a third if the trillions of dollars spent on fossil fuel subsidies were ended tomorrow.

Oil company profits in the most recent quarter didn't reach the stratospheric heights that record-high gasoline prices delivered last year, yet they still beat pre-pandemic returns. Exxon reported earnings of $9.1bn, and its refineries churned out the highest volume of fuel for that period since 1999, Politico reported.

Continuing to dither is not an option, as the longer we wait to solve the problem, the bigger the problems become; negative feedback loops are starting to kick in, otherwise called tipping points. The melting of Russia's perafrost is an obvious example, as the warmer the soil gets, the more primordial methane it releases, accelerating the warming. The melting of the ice caps is another one that is already happening.

Oxford University says these feedback loops are not well understood and is calling on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  to urgently investigate. But the danger of starting a runaway cascade of self-fuelling planetary heating effects is a real danger now.

Earth’s energy imbalance

Most of the attention has been on reducing the Green House Gases (GHGs) as they heat the planet, but there are other sources of global heating too. Ironically, thanks to the efforts to clean up pollution and take harmful gases out of the atmosphere, the planet is now retaining more sunlight than it used to and that is also adding to global warming.

The earth’s energy is out of balance and the world is starting to cook, says a new report. The authors include James Hansen, who testified to the US Congress on global heating as long ago as 1988.

More energy than ever before is coming into the planet (absorbed sunlight) than is going out (heat radiated to space), said the scientists. The earth’s energy imbalance (EEI) has escalated in the past decade, they said. The imbalance so far in the 2020s is almost double the rate during the study’s calibration period, from mid-2005 to mid-2015.

“Although fossil fuel-related greenhouse gas emissions are the main driver of rising temperatures, a global decline in sulfur dioxide emissions is likely a contributing factor,” Oxford University reports. “Sulfur dioxide forms sulfates in the atmosphere, which are the strongest anthropogenic cooling agent, hiding part of the greenhouse gas warming.”

As bne IntelliNews reported, ironically an effort to clean up ship exhaust fumes has backfired and accelerated the heating of the planet. Sulphur particles emitted from ship fuel have a notable role in cloud formation, and the reduction in pollution post-2020 has led to increased sea temperatures.

In a study published in 2021, the EEI was found to have doubled in the 14 years from 2005 to 2019. The study was by scientists at NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Earth's climate is determined by a delicate balance between how much of the sun's radiation energy is absorbed in the atmosphere, and at the surface, and how much thermal infrared radiation the earth emits to space, says NASA.

A positive energy imbalance – which is what we have – means the earth system is gaining energy, causing the planet to heat up. 

This is in addition to global climate change – also known as global warming – which is caused by emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs).

EEI is the result of a decline in the cooling effect of human-made aerosols -- reducing the sulphur in ship fuel mentioned above.

Ozone hole is back 

There is a massive hole in the Ozone again, which is also allowing more of the sun's energy to reach the surface. Ozone absorbs ultraviolet rays, a high energy wavelength of light. A giant hole in the ozone layer has reappeared over the Arctic allowing cosmic rays to zap DNA, genetically modifying to extinction any higher organism living within thousands of square miles of the hole.

Hot summer

This year has been the hottest on record. Exceptional heat waves have swept across the world, causing chaos as they go and fuelling extreme weather events on an unprecedented scale. Hundreds of billions of dollars of damage has been done and tens of thousands of people have died.

Globally temperatures in June, July and August were 0.66 degrees Celsius above the average between 1991 and 2020, according to Europe’s Earth observation agency Copernicus. 

In the Northern Hemisphere Surface Air Temperature Anomaly has been increasing and has already increased by more than 1.5C compared to the long term average. Then the Earth briefly passed the threshold of 2C hotter than the averaage for the first time on November 17. 

The global average temperature has never before exceeded a rise of 2C  since before industrialisation, according to Samantha Burgess, the deputy director of the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

And in June Iran has recorded one of the hottest days since records began of 52.2C -- on the edge of what humanity can survive. By August the heatwave forced Iranian authorities to declared August 2 and 3 as national bank holidays due to abnormally intense heat across the country. 


1123 Iran hottest day ever on earth bneGreen Climate crisis 

Things weren't any better in Europe where temperatures broke through the 40°C mark in mid-June, stoking fears of record-breaking summer heatwaves that could endanger lives and threaten food supplies while providing further proof of the devastating effects of man-made global warming.

In the French resort town of Biarritz, temperatures reached 42.9°C on 18 June, the hottest ever June day in the town since records began in the nineteenth century. This was also the earliest 40°C observed in France in recorded history, beating the previous record of 21 June in 2003.

1123 EURO heatwave map bneGreen Climate crisis Copernicus

Likewise, Brazil and the rest of South America has also seen a heatwave that has been drying up the Amazon river. 

1123 LATAM Brazil heat wave climate crisis bneGreen  

Large parts of India risk becoming uninhabitable in future if current heat waves persist, threatening migration and climate crises that could send shock waves round the world and displace 1.3bn people.

Temperatures were in their 50Cs in April in India and Pakistan, with peaks of up to 65°C, breaking all records, pushing up demand for electricity, causing water shortages in agriculture and threatening future food supply constraints. The Indian franchise of Burger King took tomatoes off the menu after the local crops failed and tomatoes became exorbitantly expensive.

1123 Indian heat wave India heatwave climate crisis bneGreen 

Hot oceans

The seas are the temperature of bath water and the land is baking. This year the rise the global temperature in June already passed the 1.5C limit compared to the 1850-1900 base set in the Paris Accords as the upper limit for global warming.

Leon Simons, a board member of the Club of Rome and climate expert,  released a scary string of charts recently that show ocean temperatures are at record breaking levels across the board and show no sign of slowing down. 

“Do people understand how crazy it is that these temperature records are being shattered SIMULTANEOUSLY and CONTINUOUSLY for months [this year],” said Simons in a tweet. “If the extreme weather around the world is shocking to you now, hold onto your hats. 2023 is just a warmup.”

"A massive heat blob is sitting across the Pacific Ocean. Thermal inertia in the oceans is going to continue for a very long time due to the incredible amount of energy oceans have been absorbing due to anthropogenic greenhouse warming," says Simons.

Global Sea Surface Temperatures keep running record high. "Based on the previous two strong El Niños, it might take another full year until temperatures dip below the pre-2023 records again," says Leon SImons.


20 of 35 vital signs are now record levels ​

Academics are becoming alarmed as all the indicators they use to measure the health of the planet are starting to flash red.

On the basis of time series data, 20 of the 35 so-called “vital signs” have already breached their safe levels and are now showing record extremes.

“These data 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,” Oxford University said in its study.

1123 GBL bneGreen climate crisis 20 of 35 vital signs at records  OXFORD UNIVERSITY 

1123 GBL bneGreen climate crisis 20 of 35 vital signs at records  OXFORD UNIVERSITY 2

Ice caps are melting

One of the consequences of the accelerated heating is already visible. That has led to unprecedented low levels of sea ice surrounding Antarctica. Each line in the charts below corresponds to a different year, with darker grey representing later years.

“Ocean acidity, glacier thickness, and Greenland ice mass all fell to record lows (figure 3g, 3j, and 3l), whereas sea level rise and ocean heat content rose to record highs (figure 3f, 3h). The increase in heat content and the rapid rise in sea surface temperatures (figure 1c, 1d) are especially troubling, because they could have many serious impacts, including the loss of sea life, coral reefs dying because of bleaching, and a rise in the intensity of large tropical storms,” Oxford University says.

Floods and storms 

Another very visible consequence of the changes in the climate is the unprecedented storms this year. Climate change has already contributed significantly to human suffering as weather-related deaths from everything from heat stoke to hurricanes has rapidly increased in 2023.  

Recent climate-related disasters since November 2022.


Climate disaster

November–December 2022

Record-breaking heat waves in Argentina and Paraguay contributed to power outages, wildfires, and poor harvests. This extreme heat was estimated to have been made 60 times more likely because of climate change.

December 2022–March 2023

Heavy rainfall caused by atmospheric rivers led to multiple floods in the Western United States. There were at least 22 fatalities and property damages were estimated to be US$3.5 billion. Climate change may be increasing the likelihood of such catastrophic floods, although its effect on these particular storms is less clear.


February 2023

Cyclone Gabrielle caused extreme rainfall in Aotearoa New Zealand's Te Ika-a-Māui (North Island), potentially resulting in billions of dollars in damages and 225,000 homes losing power. This intense rainfall may be partly caused by a warming climate.

March–May 2023

Record-breaking temperatures were recorded in parts of Southeast Asia, China, and South Asia. The extreme heat caused deaths and school closures in India and led to more than 100 students requiring treatment for dehydration in the Philippines. It was likely at least partly because of climate change. For example, climate change has increased the likelihood of such an event to occur over Bangladesh and India by a factor of at least 30.

January–July 2023

Intense wildfires in Canada burned roughly 10 million hectares, displacing 30,000 people at their peak, and worsening air quality across large portions of Canada and the United States. These extreme wildfires may be partly because of climate change, although many other factors are likely involved.

May 2023

Tropical cyclone Mocha is reported to have killed at least 145 people in Myanmar and affected roughly 800,000 people in the region. Climate change may have made such storms more intense.

May–June 2023

Tropical storm Mawar caused flooding and loss of power in parts of Guam. Mawar is the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the northern hemisphere in May. Climate change may be causing an increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones (Wu et al. 2022).

June 2023

Deadly heat led to more than a dozen deaths in the Southern and Midwestern United States. Climate change is leading to an increase in the frequency and duration of such heat waves.

July 2023

Up to six people died in Southwest Japan because of extremely heavy rainfall that caused floods and landslides. Climate change is likely making such heavy rainfall events more severe. Days later, floods and landslides, which may have been partly related to climate change, killed more than 26 people and led to thousands being evacuated in South Korea

July 2023

Heavy monsoon rain caused flash floods and landslides in northern India that killed more than 100 people. Climate change is likely making monsoons in this region more variable, causing frequent landslides and floods. Heavy monsoon rains also damaged rice crops in India, raising concerns about global food prices and food security and prompting an export ban on nonbasmati varieties.

June–August 2023

Extreme heat in the United States killed at least 147 people. In the absence of climate change, the extreme heat seen in July 2023 in the United States would have been extremely unlikely to occur.

July–August 2023

Beijing, China experienced its heaviest rainfall in at least 140 years, resulting in major flooding that affected nearly 1.29 million people, damaged 147,000 homes, and caused at least 33 deaths. Intense flooding is likely becoming more common because of climate change.

August 2023

In Hawaii, United States, catastrophic wildfires on the island of Maui killed at least 111 people, with more than 1,000 people likely missing, as of 18 August 2023. Climate change may have decreased rainfall and increased temperatures in this region, potentially contributing to these fires.

September 2023

Storm Daniel caused extreme flooding in Libya and parts of southeastern Europe, resulting in thousands of fatalities and more than 2 billion US dollars in damages. Climate change may be increasing the intensity of such storms.

source: Oxford University  


Human impact

Billions of people could die or at least be forced to leave their homes, in the coming years, as parts of the planet become uninhabitable. Climate change will affect food production as well and entire cities may end up under water and towns along river banks in the heart of Europe could be swept away or at least suffer debilitating flood damage.

After declining for many years, food insecurity is already on the rise again thanks to droughts that are already affecting the more arid parts of the globe. As bne IntelliNews reported, Central Asia has just been through a second year of severe drought that led to water rationing. SE Asia have been suffering from a shortage of rice as agricultural yields tumble thanks to droughts there as well and led India to ban rice exports.

In 2022, an estimated 735mn people faced chronic hunger, according to Oxford University, an increase of roughly 122mn since 2019.

“This rise, which has pushed humanity far off track from achieving zero hunger by 2030, is due to multiple factors, including climate extremes, economic downturns, and armed conflict,” the university said in a study. “Climate change has reduced the extent of global agricultural productivity growth, so there is danger that hunger will escalate in the absence of immediate climate action. In particular, there may be serious and underestimated future risks of synchronized harvest failures caused by increased waviness of the jet stream.”

Oxford’s study warns there is a growing risks of synchronised major crop losses in multiple regions of the world, due to the extreme global weather associated with climate change. Along with many other studies, Oxford recommends a shift toward plant-based diets, particularly in wealthy countries, which could improve global food security and help mitigate climate change.

“The effects of global warming are progressively more severe, and possibilities such as a worldwide societal breakdown are feasible and dangerously underexplored,” argues the Oxford study. “By the end of this century, an estimated 3bn to 6bn individuals—approximately one-third to one-half of the global population—might find themselves confined beyond the liveable region, encountering severe heat, limited food availability, and elevated mortality rates because of the effects of climate change.”

In what was an academic study of climate change and challenges, replete with citations to other academic studies and evidence, at the end of the report the authors, experts on the Climate Crisis, let themselves go to add a personal message, reproduced below here.

“As scientists, we are increasingly being asked to tell the public the truth about the crises we face in simple and direct terms. The truth is that we are shocked by the ferocity of the extreme weather events in 2023. We are afraid of the uncharted territory that we have now entered. Conditions are going to get very distressing and potentially unmanageable for large regions of the world, with the 2.6°C warming expected over the course of the century, even if the self-proposed national emissions reduction commitments of the Paris Agreement are met (UNEP 2022b),” they said.

“We warn of potential collapse of natural and socioeconomic systems in such a world where we will face unbearable heat, frequent extreme weather events, food and fresh water shortages, rising seas, more emerging diseases, and increased social unrest and geopolitical conflict,” the authors said.

“Massive suffering due to climate change is already here, and we have now exceeded many safe and just Earth system boundaries, imperilling stability and life-support systems. As we will soon bear witness to failing to meet the Paris agreement's aspirational 1.5°C goal, the significance of immediately curbing fossil fuel use and preventing every further 0.1°C increase in future global heating cannot be overstated,” they said. “Rather than focusing only on carbon reduction and climate change, addressing the underlying issue of ecological overshoot will give us our best shot at surviving these challenges in the long run. This is our moment to make a profound difference for all life on Earth, and we must embrace it with unwavering courage and determination to create a legacy of change that will stand the test of time.”