The verification, since April 2023, of an avalanche of climatic extremes at all latitudes is alarming scientists and requires reconsidering climate action, not to relax the ambition of the objectives, as some European leaders request, but, precisely, to diversify the levers of action in order to obtain better results at lower cost, or even benefits.
We are witnessing abnormally high temperatures, up to 12 degrees Celsius above previous maximums, in different geographies and weather seasons; half of the ocean surface is affected by marine heat waves; an unprecedented minimum extent of sea ice in Antarctica not seen for as long as records exist; and unusual atmospheric transport events, such as haze events that transport Saharan dust to latitudes as high as London and Paris, and continue to spread south Europe, causing a stifling summer. Changes in atmospheric circulation with global warming have caused the Azores anticyclone to weaken this summer until it almost disappeared, accentuating the sensation of muggy that accompanies calimas, since it acts as a greenhouse gas that retains heat during the night and increasing the sea temperature rapidly.
These thermal conditions challenge the habitability of cities in the United States, China, Iran or, in cities like Seville and Córdoba in our own country. The impacts of these extremes are beginning to become evident, in the form of deaths from heat stroke, burns from contact with the asphalt; coral bleaching in Florida, and massive mortality of fish and marine mollusks suffocated by lack of oxygen; wildfires in Canada, Greece, Türkiye and North Africa; crop failure in Europe; and destructive monsoon flooding in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Some of these extreme events could be independently explained in relation to existing climate change models. However, what alarms scientists is the coincidence of so many extreme events in time, together with the appearance of unforeseen events. The concern that is distilled from the discussion forums of climate scientists is that climate models may have underestimated the response of the climate system to the pressure derived from accumulated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, boosted by climatic oscillations that feed the trend. to warm up. More specifically, these models could have underestimated mechanisms of abrupt change, non-linear processes in technical jargon, capable of diverting the climate path from the gradual response to greenhouse gas emissions assumed by climate models.
We are entering climatic terrain never before experienced by our species, which we have to face with ambitious and intelligent measures, supported by science and criteria of social justice, since the most disadvantaged societies and segments of the population are also the most vulnerable to these extreme episodes. .
Precisely at this critical moment, when our leaders have to act with determination and intelligence, I witness with perplexity and deep concern the occupation of government institutions by parties and people who question climate change and boast of their ignorance or their arrogance in ignoring not only the scientific consensus, but the evidence that accumulates around it. In their eagerness to return to our post-war regime, these individuals adopt the same contempt for science as Millán Astray when he said “Death to intelligence! Long live death!”
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When we face the enormous risk of failing to contain climate change within the narrow window left to reach the safety band set out in the Paris Agreement, placing climate skeptics in institutions is suicidal. To whom we will have to account for these decisions are none other than our children and grandchildren, who are those whom these irresponsible people who think that their beliefs annul the laws of physics, condemn to live in a climatic hell.
Well, it is Spain’s turn, as President of the European Union, to lead the response to the series of extreme climatic events that we are experiencing, with their foreseeable consequences this autumn. We have to do it with determination, ambition, intelligence and guided by science, without letting ourselves be absorbed by the uncertainties of our political situation.
The European Union must activate a rapid response effort to produce climate models with a greater predictive capacity, capable of reproducing present events and making it possible to anticipate extreme events in the future with the necessary resolution in space and time. You should also thoroughly review your climate policies to make them more effective and resilient. This requires activating a broader spectrum of solutions than the current emphasis on efficiency and energy transition, also betting on new CO₂ capture and use technologies, which we will undoubtedly need. The recent resolution to restore 20% of degraded ecosystems in the EU should be deployed prioritizing those whose restoration also brings climate benefits, either for mitigation or adaptation to climate change. Climate change adaptation policies must be deployed horizontally, covering all sectors, from urban planning, infrastructure, coastal and water management, and agricultural and fisheries policies, thus reducing the impacts of climate change and the economic losses they cause.
Now that movie theaters recreate the project directed by Robert Oppenheimer 80 years ago, we need precisely a new Manhattan Project. This time it is not about stopping fascism, which we Spaniards have just done at the polls, but rather about providing a definitive solution to climate change. Achieving this requires an intense and collaborative effort and the targeting of resources so that the brightest minds of our time provide solutions that cannot wait any longer in the face of an existential threat to humanity.
As Martin Luther King said in another context, “we must face the fact that tomorrow is today, confront the urgent fierceness of now, and engage in the long and bitter but beautiful struggle for a new world.”
Carlos M. Duarte is Professor of Marine Sciences at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, and Executive Director of the Global Platform to Accelerate Coral R&D (CORDAP.org).
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