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Satellite image of the world’s largest iceberg floating out into the open ocean. Image courtesy of NASA Worldview

This past year has seen a striking number of extreme weather events, enough to make even climate change naysayers sit up and take notice. As documented in the latest United Nations “Emissions Gap Report” — the gap between what is needed to stave off catastrophic climate change and what is actually being done has only closed minimally over the past year.

Per the report:

“As greenhouse gas emissions hit new highs, temperature records tumble and climate impacts intensify, the Emissions Gap Report 2023: Broken Record – Temperatures hit new highs, yet world fails to cut emissions (again) finds that the world is heading for a temperature rise far above the Paris Agreement goals unless countries deliver more than they have promised. The report is the 14th edition in a series that brings together many of the world’s top climate scientists to look at future trends in greenhouse gas emissions and provide potential solutions to the challenge of global warming.”

Most of the globe (149 countries)  now accepts that our unfettered emission of greenhouse gases is causing the planet’s average temperatures to rise beyond that which the planet can handle. Those same 149 countries have re-upped their pledges under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to curb their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

If every single country were actually to meet its stated goals, the global greenhouse gas emissions would be two percent to nine percent lower by the end of this decade. Not enough, say scientists, at least not yet — even if we meet those goals, the Earth will still be on track to warm up by roughly 2.5 to 2.9 degrees Celsius over our pre-industrial levels (that’s the end of the 19th century).

Here Come the Threats – and They are Iceberg-size

As the Earth warms up, every fraction of a degree of warming increases the threat of deadly heat waves, wildfires and droughts, massive typhoons and species extinctions.

That’s without the threats inherent in sea level rise — let alone the threat posed by the massive iceberg that broke off from Antarctica this week.

The world’s largest iceberg, known as A23a, is the size of Oahu, Hawaii. After decades being ice-stuck into place, the British Antarctic Survey announced in mid-November that it has now begun floating out into the open ocean. Some predict it is going to run headlong into a critical breeding area for penguins and seals.

The thing is estimated to be at least one trillion tons of ice (that’s a lot of ice cubes) and it measures roughly 40 by 32 nautical miles. By comparison, the island of Oahu is 44 by 30 miles across and Manhattan, NY is about a third the size of this.

Representatives of 200 countries are presently meeting in Dubai (not exactly a cool place) for a U.N. Climate Summit known as COP28, to decide what nations ought to do next. According to the U.N., the two industrialized nations who are most at fault for greenhouse gas emissions — the U.S. and China — have suggested that nations should triple their use of renewable energy such as wind and solar by 2030. Other nations demand that fossil fuels be phased out.

Most countries are not making commitments about this at the 2023 conference. Instead, they are saying they’ll come back in 2025 and announce their plans. The U.N. is rejecting that approach.

“Unless countries drastically ramp up action this decade, the United Nations report said, it will quickly become “impossible to limit” global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and extremely difficult to say below two degrees.

The G20 countries (the industrial nations) are already going to fall short of their pledge by about 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2030 unless they take additional steps; let alone cut back further.