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Life on Earth under ‘existential threat’: Climate scientists

PARIS (AFP) – Climate change poses an “existential threat” to life on Earth, prominent scientists, in an assessment on this year’s avalanche of heat records and weather extremes that they said are hitting more ferociously than expected.

With expectations that 2023 will be the hottest year on record, regions across the planet have been scorched by deadly heat waves.

Others have been hit by floods, or in some cases, have suffered both extremes in quick succession.

“The truth is that we are shocked by the ferocity of the extreme weather events in 2023. We are afraid of the uncharted territory that we have now entered,” said an international coalition of authors in a new report published in the journal BioScience.

Their stark assessment: “Life on planet Earth is under siege”.

Extreme weather has struck across the planet this year. PHOTO: AFP

They said humanity made “minimal progress” in curbing its planet-heating emissions, with major greenhouse gases at record levels, and subsidies for fossil fuels soaring last year.

The assessment comes just a month ahead of the 28th United Nations Conference of the Parties (UN COP28) climate negotiations to be held in the United Arab Emirates.

“We must shift our perspective on the climate emergency from being just an isolated environmental issue to a systemic, existential threat,” the authors of the report said.

The study on the state of the climate looked at recent data on 35 planetary “vital signs” and found 20 of these were at record extremes this year.

Just roughly 1.2 degrees Celsius (°C)of temperature rise above pre-industrial levels has triggered a range of calamitous and costly consequences.

This year has also seen the beginning of a warming El Nino weather phenomenon.

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service has said the three months to September were the hottest period ever recorded, and likely the hottest in approximately 120,000 years. Many climate-related records were broken by “enormous margins” in 2023, the report said, particularly temperatures in the oceans, which have absorbed almost all the excess heat caused by human carbon pollution.

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research Director and co-author Johan Rockstrom said recorded sea surface temperatures “go completely off the chart” and scientists are not yet able to fully explain why.

The potentially serious impacts include threats to sea life and coral reefs and an increase in the intensity of large tropical storms, the report said.

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