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Have we crossed a climate tipping point?

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Dodging a lot of puddles lately? Or baking in the summer heat? The Met Office recently released a study on climate change that highlighted 2020 as the third-warmest and fifth-wettest year to have ever been recorded. This data was released soon after Germany, Belgium, China and London experienced flash flooding. Meanwhile, North America has experienced record-shattering heat waves that made fish fry alive. Climate change is no longer a thing of the future or a phenomenon on the far reaches of the world. Indeed, Arctic sea ice is continuously melting, but now we can see the impact of it right outside our bedroom windows.

The rate at which climate change has accelerated and its impact has become more intense than predicted. Over the last six decades to 2018, the UK saw sea levels rise around 12cm, according to the director of the National Oceanography Centre, Professor Ed Hill. Recently, sporadic extreme weather events have heightened division amongst scientists on whether we are entering a new phase of the climate crisis. But what they can rally around is that the heatwave North America experienced was directly linked to human-initiated climate change, as argued by Greet Jan van Oldenborgh, a researcher at the Dutch National Weather Service. The idea that we have reached a ‘tipping point’, where the irreversibility of melted ice caps or Amazonian trees is emphasised, seems to be hard to ignore. Decarbonising measures can help slow down the pace of climate change, but it is nevertheless going to be something we must adapt our existence around.

As our global population expands and our incomes rise, demand increases for intensively produced, high-energy using foods such as meat, fish, dairy, and vegetable oils. Whilst governments are looking to drive forward electric cars and renewables, less emphasis has been put on how these methods will make our food systems more efficient. Our current resource-intensive methods are soaring greenhouse emissions, ushering us into a new, more unpredictable phase of the climate crisis. Agricultural productivity is forecasted to see a one-third reduction in the next 60 years in parts of Africa, according to PwC. Moreover, the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement committed to limit any increase of global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, which is a far-fetched prospect with our current production and consumption models. However, changes are being made in the right direction as businesses are turning to renewable energy. In South Africa, one company uses wastewater and poultry waste to power its food processing plants. Whilst we may have crossed an environmental point of no return, our infrastructure shows potential for adaption to help reduce the pace at which our planet is warming. The real task lies in achieving this potential and holding our governments to account for going far enough.

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