COP28 talks start with alarming climate report

COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber (in white) receives a gavel from COP27 President Sameh Shoukry during the opening ceremony of the 28th session of COP28 in Dubai on Nov 30, 2023. [Xinhua]

This year recorded the hottest temperatures in history. Scientists have confirmed as global leaders start talks on global warming in Dubai.

World Meteorological Organization's provisional report, The State of Climate at COP 28, highlights Kenya's ongoing flooding due to El Nino rains as yet another climate disaster on the global map.

"Kenya's ongoing floods serve as a reminder that climate disasters know no borders, emphasizing there is an urgent need for unified, decisive action to safeguard our shared planet," said Petteri Taalas, the secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, said during the release of the report.

Adding that floods risk increased health risks and massive loss of biodiversity for the country.

This year's United Nations climate summit is being held at the heart of the United Arab Emirates in Dubai where delegates from nearly 200 countries, including many heads of state and government, have gathered to chart a path of the changing climate.

The provisional results revealed that global temperatures in 2023 have been about 1.4 degrees Celsius, or about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than the average global temperature between 1850 and 1990.

According to scientists at the UN agency, the past nine years have collectively been the warmest in 174 years of recorded scientific observations, with the previous single-year records set in 2020 and 2016. This comes in addition to record greenhouse gas concentrations, sea levels and concentrations of methane.

“It’s a deafening cacophony of broken records,” Taalas said.

Although data for the end of the year is still to come, the organization issued a draft of its State of the Global Climate report early to inform the talks in Dubai, where diplomats and leaders are trying to negotiate plans to accelerate the global transition away from the fossil fuels that are dangerously heating Earth.

Taalas said he hoped the report would signal to negotiators in Dubai the urgent need to hash out an ambitious deal to mitigate climate change. “We are not at all going in the right direction,” he said later in an interview. “We are going in the wrong direction.

The provisional findings were in line with what scientists had predicted, with month after month in 2023 breaking global average temperature records.

By emphasizing the changes the planet is already undergoing, the scientific community wants to make sure leaders at COP28 understand the urgency of climate change and the weight of their decisions, said Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The decision-makers within the international negotiations are in the driver’s seat of future climate change,” she said.

The Northern Hemisphere summer was disastrously hot for much of the world’s population, with July coming in as Earth’s hottest month on human record. Scientists found that extreme temperatures in North America and in Europe would have been “virtually impossible” without the influence of climate change from the burning of fossil fuels.

The true cost in lives and economic losses won’t be clear for some time. But research examining past years reveals the steep price of global warming in general. More than 61,000 people are estimated to have died in Europe alone because of heat waves in 2022. In Africa, climate change has led to more hunger, malaria, dengue fever and flooding," Taalas said.

More intense, concentrated bursts of rainfall are one effect of climate change. In September, a powerful storm dumped torrential rain over the Mediterranean, rupturing two dams in Libya and killing thousands in the city of Derna.

Earlier in the year, the exceptionally long-lived Tropical Cyclone Freddy hit southern Africa, forming in early February and making final landfall in Mozambique and Malawi in mid-March. The storm killed more than 600 and displaced more than 600,000 in Malawi.

Another intense storm, Tropical Cyclone Mocha, hit Southeast Asia in May. The cyclone displaced more than 1 million people, including many Rohingya refugees who had already been displaced once from Myanmar and were living in the world’s largest refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.

"In less dire circumstances, high temperatures prevent people from working as many hours as they would normally," scientists noted.

One study estimated that, in 2021, the United States agriculture, construction, manufacturing and service sectors lost more than 2.5 billion labor hours to heat exposure.

A separate assessment found that, in 2020, productivity losses from extreme heat cost the American economy about USD100 billion.