Accelerate battle against climate change
Scientists in Antarctica have recorded a new record temperature of 20.75 degrees Celsius breaking the barrier of 20 degrees for the first time on the continent, and this should serve as a warning call for the world to expedite collective action against climate change. Brazilian scientist Carlos Schaefer insists that Antarctica has never seen a temperature this high. The risk is real because accelerating melt-off from glaciers and especially ice sheets in Antarctica is helping drive sea level rises, threatening coastal megacities and small island nations. Incidentally, the news came a week after Argentina’s National Meteorological Service recorded the hottest day on record for Argentine Antarctica: 18.3 degrees Celsius at midday at the Esperanza base, located near the tip of the Antarctic peninsula. The previous record stood at 17.5 degrees on March 24, 2015. It has been recording Antarctic temperatures since 1961. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), amid steadily warming temperatures, the amount of ice lost annually from the Antarctic ice sheet increased at least six-fold between 1979 and 2017. Most of this ice loss happens when ice shelves melt from below, as they come into contact with relatively warm ocean water. Melting is especially marked in west Antarctica and to a lesser extent along the peninsula and in east Antarctica. As per WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis, around 87 per cent of glaciers along the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula have retreated in the last 50 years, with most of these showing an accelerated retreat in the last 12 years. Concern is particularly high over the main glacier tributaries to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, in particular the Pine Island glacier, where two large rifts that were first spotted in early 2019 have each grown to some 20 kilometres long.
The crisis cuts across many regions. For the past five years, the entire southern tip of the African continent, where average temperatures are rising twice as fast as the global mean, has suffered from a significant lack of rain. Every farmer, big or small, has been affected as well as breeders, hoteliers and teachers. In Zimbabwe, the drought has added to a long list of crises, from stratospheric inflation to shortages of cash, petrol, medicines, water and electricity. French President Emmanuel Macron has rightly called the battle against climate change and environmental destruction “the fight of the century” after visiting a melting glacier in the French Alps. Clad in winter gear, Macron listened attentively to explanations about how France’s biggest glacier has lost much of its splendor, retreating up its valley and shedding so much of its thickness that the stairs leading down to it have had to be extended. The past decade has been the hottest on record, the United Nations said last month, with 2019 the second-hottest year ever, after 2016. And 2020 looks set to continue the trend: last month was the hottest January on record. On the current path of carbon dioxide emissions, the world is heading towards a temperature increase of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of century. Since the 1980s, each decade has been warmer than the previous one: a trend the UN agency expects will continue due to the record level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The world cannot afford the luxury of inaction on climate change. Lethargy and failure to take collective global action will prove costly for one and all.