Earth is getting hotter and deadlier during decades of climate talks


World leaders have been meeting for 29 years in an attempt to curb global warming, and during that time Earth has become a much hotter and deadlier planet.

Billions of tons of ice disappeared during this period, the burning of fossil fuels spewed out billions of tons of heat-trapping gases into the air, and hundreds of thousands of people died from the heat and others. weather disasters fueled by climate change, statistics show.

When more than 100 world leaders came down to Rio de Janeiro in 1992 for an Earth Summit to discuss global warming and other environmental issues, there was “a tremendous sense of well-being, of being able to do something. . There was real hope, ”said Onondaga Nation turtle clan loyalist Oren Lyons, one of the Native American representatives at the top.

Now, said the 91-year-old activist, that hope has been stifled: “The ice is melting. … Everything is bad. … Thirty years of degradation.

Data analyzed by The Associated Press from government figures and scientific reports show “how much we have lost the Earth,” said former US Environmental Protection Agency chief William K. Reilly, who headed the US delegation three decades ago.

This Earth Summit set in motion the process of international climate negotiations that culminated in the 2015 Paris Agreement and resumes Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland, where leaders will try to step up efforts to reduce pollution by carbon.

By 1992, it was clear that climate change was a problem “with major implications for lives and livelihoods in the future,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the PA this month. this. “This future is here and we are out of time.”

World leaders have reached two agreements to tackle climate change. In Kyoto in 1997, a protocol set reductions in carbon pollution for developed countries but not for the poorest countries. This only came into effect in 2005 due to ratification requirements. In 2015, the Paris Agreement required each country to set its own emissions targets.

In both cases, the United States, one of the most polluting countries, helped negotiate the deals, but then withdrew from the process when a Republican president took office. The United States has since joined the Paris Agreement.

The annual global temperature has increased by nearly 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit since 1992, based on a multi-year average, according to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Earth has warmed more in the past 29 years than in the previous 110 years. Since 1992, the world has broken the annual world record for high temperature eight times.

In Alaska, the average temperature has risen 2.5 degrees since 1992, according to NOAA. The Arctic had warmed twice as fast as the globe as a whole, but has now grown to three times faster in some seasons, according to the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program.

This heat melts the ice of the Earth. Since 1992, the Earth has lost 36 trillion tonnes of ice, according to calculations by climatologist Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds. This includes sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic which now melts more in summer than before, the shrinking of giant ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica, and the melting of glaciers.

And Michael Zemp, who runs the World Glacier Monitoring Service, said Shepherd’s numbers may have been a bit low. He calculates that since 1992, the world’s glaciers have lost nearly 9.5 trillion tonnes of ice (8.6 trillion metric tonnes), about a trillion tonnes more than Shepherd’s figures.

With more ice melting in the ocean and the expansion of water as it warms, the average sea level around the world has risen by about 3.7 inches since 1992, according to the University of Colorado. It may not seem like much, but it is enough to cover the United States with water to a depth of 11 feet, calculated Steve Nerem, a sea level researcher at the University of Colorado.

Forest fires in the United States have more than doubled the number of people burned. From 1983 to 1992, forest fires consumed an average of 2.7 million acres per year. From 2011 to 2020, the average was 7.5 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

“The unhealthy choices that kill our planet are also killing our people,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Program at the World Health Organization.

The United States has experienced 265 weather disasters that have caused at least $ 1 billion in damage – adjusted to 2021 dollars – since 1992, including 18 so far this year. These disasters killed 11,991 people and cost $ 1.8 trillion. From 1980 to 1992, the United States suffered an average of three of these billion-dollar weather disasters per year. Since 1993, the country has had an average of nine per year.

Globally, there have been nearly 8,000 climatic, hydrological and meteorological disasters, killing 563,735 people, according to the EMDAT disaster database e. These figures are probably missing a lot of disasters and deaths, said Debarati Guha-Sapir, who oversees the database of the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the School of Public Health at the University of Louvain in Brussels. .

Medical researchers earlier this year examined 732 cities around the world and calculated the number of deaths from the extra heat caused by climate change. They found that on average since 1991, there have been 9,702 global warming deaths per year in the cities studied alone, representing 281,000 climate-related deaths since 1992.

But that’s a small proportion of what’s actually happening, said study author Ana Vicedo-Cabrera, an epidemiologist at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern in Switzerland. Using these cities, the researchers calculated that during the hottest four months of the year, additional heat from climate change is responsible for 0.58% of deaths worldwide.

This represents around 100,000 heat deaths caused by climate change per year for 29 years, she said.

WHO officials said the numbers made sense and calculated that the annual death toll from climate change would rise to 250,000 per year by the 2030s.

Scientists say it happens because of the gases that trap heat. Carbon dioxide levels rose 17%, from 353 parts per million in September 1992 to 413 in September 2021, according to NOAA. The agency’s annual greenhouse gas index, which identifies six gases and weights them according to the amount of heat they trap, has increased nearly 20% since 1992.

From 1993 to 2019, the world emitted more than 885 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air from fossil fuel combustion and cement manufacturing, according to the Global Carbon Project, a group of scientists who monitor emissions.

A pessimistic Lyonnais, the Native American activist, said: “I would say this meeting in Glasgow is the last blow.”

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