The World Meteorological Day last fortnight (March 23) reminded us once again of the ground realities vis-à-vis global warming. One thing is abundantly clear — we have no choice but to collectively step up our efforts to mitigate climate change. Lip service and half-hearted efforts won’t do. If we fail to act, then extreme weather events across geographies, far more severe than what we have already witnessed, is the prognosis. With it will come disruptions that will derail economies and millions of lives.

“State of the Global Climate 2023,” a recent report of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), brings to the fore how these disruptive changes need to be better tracked and addressed. “It (2023) was the warmest year on record. The global average temperature in 2023 was about 1.45o C above the 1850-1900 average. Never have we been so close (albeit on a temporary basis) to the 1.5o C lower limit of the Paris Agreement on climate change,” observes Prof Celeste Saulo, Secretary General, WMO, in the report. According to the report, the concentrations of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) continued to rise. Ocean heat content and sea level reached a record observed highs, and rate of increase is accelerating. Antarctic ice extent hit record observed lows and key glaciers suffered record losses.

The fuel factor

The report highlights issues around global warming, concentration of three main GHGs (greenhouse gases) — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, reaching a record observed high level. And extreme weather conditions continuing to lead to severe socio-economic impact. Warming of the oceans meant the global mean sea level continued to rise in 2023, with extreme weather and climate events having a major impact across continents.

Containing global warming at acceptable levels is indeed a challenge because of fossil fuel dependency being a key factor. The International Energy Agency (IEA) in its World Energy Outlook warns, “As things stand, demand for fossil fuels is set to remain far too high to keep within reach the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C. This risks not only worsening climate impacts after a year of record-breaking heat, but also undermining the security of the energy system, which was built for a cooler world with less extreme weather events.”

Significantly, the IEA report cautions that despite the “impressive clean energy growth based on today’s policy settings, global emissions would remain high enough to push up global average temperatures by around 2.4°C this century, well above the key threshold set out in the Paris Agreement.”

Clean tech

In such a disruptive backdrop, clean technologies are expected to play a critical role wherein the energy system in 2030 could see ten times as many electric cars on the road worldwide than today. Solar PV will be generating more electricity than the entire US power system does currently. Renewables’ share of the global electricity mix possibly nearing 50 per cent, up from around 30 per cent today and heat pumps and other electric heating systems outselling fossil fuel boilers globally and three times as much investment going into new offshore wind projects than into new coal and gas-fired power plants.

But to push the envelope even further requires much higher infusion of finance for renewables. Current flows represent only about 1 per cent of global GDP. For a 1.5oC pathway, annual climate finance investments need to grow by more than six times, reaching $9 trillion by 2030 and a further $10 trillion by 2050, says the WMO report on the need for climate policy initiative.

What about the ground realities in India? According to the WMO report, “Data from the Indian Meteorological Department reflects a worrying escalation in extreme weather events necessitating an urgent and collective response.” Last month several parts of the country faced a severe water crisis. Majority of the country’s reservoirs have hit their lowest in the past five years potentially causing concerns for adequate drinking water supply. With at least two more months to go before the south-west monsoon sets in, the country is in for tough days ahead.

We can only hope that the rain gods will not fail us. But more than looking up at the sky for mercy, we must look towards better way to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.