The world has come too late to halt global warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius, a point above which scientists say the situation could become particularly dangerous, for example by recording long-term sea level rise and potentially triggering natural tipping points and feedback systems that reinforce process.
One such feedback system is increased weather severity. The accumulation of huge amounts of additional energy in the atmosphere means that storms are becoming more and more destructive. Warmer air also holds more moisture, which means droughts get drier and rains get more intense.
Planting trees, natural engines of carbon sequestration, is the backbone of the fight against climate change. However, if they are constantly blown away by gale-force winds or burnt by a forest fire, the effectiveness of this strategy will be reduced.
Strong hurricanes like Eunice also cause damage to vital infrastructure that then needs to be rebuilt, incurring costs in the form of carbon emissions from construction.
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However, while the threat posed by nature increasingly turning against us, climate scientists can try to calculate, the human factor is far less predictable.
If Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine, the West has promised that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany will not be launched. This has already led to a search for alternative sources and created new pressure to discover new oil and gas fields.
Other potential conflicts, especially those involving China, are likely to create similar practical problems for efforts to decarbonize the global economy, further limiting countries’ ability to work together. And, needless to say, a country at war is unlikely to pay much attention to its carbon emissions.
The weakness of this momentum means that the limits for such “mistakes” are in order. If Putin decides to play soldiers with people’s real lives, the world’s liberal democracies, together defending freedom, may also have to take on more responsibility for reducing emissions than they currently expect if the patient is to survive.