On Oct. 7, 2018, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report on the projected future of the Earth if current climate change trends are to continue. The IPCC estimates that 1℃ of global warming is human-caused, which may rise to 1.5℃ by 2030 if nothing changes in our practices. If the global temperature rise were to reach 2℃, results will be even more catastrophic.
The IPCC reports that a global temperature rise like the one predicted could increase worldwide risks to health, livelihood, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth. The effects can already be seen in global air quality which, according to the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), “contributed to two-thirds of all life-years lost to environmentally related deaths and disabilities.” This tends to disproportionately affect those living in developing countries, where pollution regulations are looser.
Out of nations studied by Yale’s EPI, the United States is ranked at 27 out of 180, lagging behind other industrialized nations. Switzerland ranks first, leading in conservation efforts, while Burundi, a nation in East Africa, is the very last. The disparity between developed and developing nations is particularly stark here. Switzerland is one of the wealthiest nations in the world with a GDP of 678.9 billion USD, while Burundi is still struggling after a twelve-year civil war with a GDP of 3.5 billion USD. The difference between the scores of developed and developing countries is often a result of the positive correlation between industrialization and tighter water and sanitation regulations, among other things.
Overall, many industrialized nations have improved their conservation efforts in response to climate change and the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, though it still may not be enough. However, three-fifths of nations on the EPI have reduced their carbon dioxide emissions, and 85-90 percent have reduced methane, nitrous oxide and black carbon emissions. Lead regulations have tightened up worldwide, which has reduced lead exposure. There have also been significant strides in conservation of marine and terrestrial biomes.
While recent climate efforts have been significant, many nations have yet to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement or have pulled out entirely, like the United States. The 18 nations which, as of July 2018, have not signed the Agreement contribute to 11 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to Climate Change News. These nations include Russia, Turkey and Iran.
If current trends persist, we may experience an irreversible hothouse effect, according to the Guardian, as a result of melting ice, warming seas, shifting currents and dying forests. Once Earth reaches the hothouse phase, climate change will be totally irreversible, and human life will become less sustainable. The IPCC states that overall we can expect to see sea levels rise between now and 2100, especially if global temperature rises, and at a rapid pace, which may be hard to adapt to. Already, weather has become more extreme, with a higher frequency of severe storms, such as hurricanes. According to Phil Williamson, Ph.D., “This is definitely not a case of crying wolf, raising a false alarm: the wolves are now in sight.”