The world’s leaders have been meeting for 29 years to try to curb global warming, and during that time the earth has become a much hotter and deadlier planet.
Trillions of tons of ice have disappeared in that period, fossil fuel burning has spewed billions of tons of heat-storing gases into the air, and hundreds of thousands of people have died from heat and other weather disasters fueled by climate change, statistics show.
When more than 100 heads of state and government from around the world came to an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to discuss global warming and other environmental issues, there was “a huge sense of well-being to be able to do something. There really was hope, ”said Oren Lyons, trustee of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation, a Native American representative at the summit.
Now, according to the 91-year-old activist, hope has been stifled: “The ice is melting. … Everything is bad. … Thirty years of degradation. “
Data from government figures and scientific reports analyzed by The Associated Press show “how much we have lost the earth,” said William K. Reilly, former head of the US environmental protection agency, who headed the US delegation three decades ago.
This Earth Summit launched the process of international climate negotiations that culminated in the 2015 Paris Agreement and will resume on Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland, where leaders will seek to step up efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
As early as 1992 it was clear that climate change was a problem, “with a significant impact on life and livelihoods in the future,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the AP this month. “This future is here and we run out of time.”
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The world’s leaders have drawn up two agreements to curb climate change. In Kyoto in 1997, a protocol stipulated a reduction in CO2 emissions for industrialized countries, but not for poorer countries. This came into force in 2005 due to ratification obligations. In 2015, the Paris Agreement made every nation set their own emissions targets.
In both cases, the United States, a most polluting country, helped negotiate the agreements but later withdrew from the process when a Republican president took office. The US has since rejoined the Paris Agreement.
According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, annual global temperature has increased nearly 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit since 1992, based on multi-year averages. The earth has warmed up more in the last 29 years than in the previous 110 years. Since 1992, the world has broken the annual global maximum temperature record 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 become three times faster in some seasons, according to the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program.
This heat melts the earth’s ice. According to calculations by climate scientist Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, the earth has lost 36 trillion tons of ice since 1992. These include the sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, which is melting more rapidly in summer than it used to be, the shrinking of huge ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, and melting glaciers.
And Michael Zemp, who runs the World Glacier Monitoring Service, said Shepherd’s numbers may be a little on the low side. He calculates that the world’s glaciers have lost nearly 9.5 trillion tons of ice since 1992, about a trillion tons more than Shepherd’s numbers.
As more and more ice in the ocean melts and the water expands as it warms, the world’s average sea level has risen about 3.7 inches since 1992, according to the University of Colorado. That may not sound like much, but it is enough to cover the United States with water to a depth of 3 meters, calculated the sea level researcher Steve Nerem of the University of Colorado.
Forest fires in the United States have more than doubled how much they burned. From 1983 to 1992, forest fires consumed an average of 2.7 million hectares per year. From 2011 to 2020, the average was up to 7.5 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
“The unhealthy choices that are killing our planet are killing our people too,” said Dr. Maria Neira, Director of the World Health Organization’s Environment, Climate Change and Health Program.
There have been 265 weather disasters in the United States since 1992 that caused damage of at least $ 1 billion – adjusted to $ 2021 – including 18 this year. These disasters caused 11,991 deaths and cost $ 1.8 trillion. From 1980 to 1992, the United States experienced an average of three of these billion dollar weather disasters per year. Since 1993, the country has had an average of nine a year.
According to the EMDAT disaster database, there have been nearly 8,000 climate, water and weather disasters worldwide, in which 563,735 people have died. Those numbers are likely to miss many disasters and deaths, said Debarati Guha-Sapir, who maintains the database for the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the Louvain School of Public Health in Brussels.
Medical researchers looked at 732 cities around the world earlier this year and calculated how many deaths were caused by the additional heat caused by climate change. They found that in these cities alone there have been an average of 9,702 heat deaths per year from global warming since 1991, which adds up to 281,000 climate-related heat deaths since 1992.
But that’s only a small part of what’s really happening, says study author Ana Vicedo-Cabrera, epidemiologist at the Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern in Switzerland. Using these cities, the researchers calculated that in the four hottest months of the year, the additional heat from climate change is responsible for 0.58% of global deaths.
That’s the equivalent of about 100,000 heat deaths caused by climate change for 29 years, she said.
WHO officials said these numbers made sense and calculated that the annual death toll from climate change will rise to 250,000 a year in the 2030s.
Scientists say this is due to heat-storing gases. 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 lists six gases and weights them according to their heat storage capacity, has increased by almost 20% since 1992.
According to the Global Carbon Project, a group of scientists who track emissions, from 1993 to 2019 the world released more than 885 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air from burning fossil fuels and making cement.
A pessimistic Native American activist Lyons said, “I would say this meeting in Glasgow is the final shot.”
– The Associated Press