More than 40 years after Wallace Smith Broecker published his landmark 1975 paper ‘Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?’ the world is still to set into action a global plan to prevent climate chaos.
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While close to 200 countries reached the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 and adopted a set of rules governing climate action at the UN climate talks in Katowice (COP24) last December, they have so far failed to commit to accelerated climate action.
This ongoing political inaction is what drives the burgeoning school climate strikes inspired by Swedish girl Greta Thunberg, who boldly warned leaders at COP24 that “people will not wait for change, we will tell them change is coming”.
But Broecker – who passed away in a New York City hospital this week at the age of 87 – did not get to see the concerted climate action he called for throughout much of his working life.
In the 1970s, when Broecker correctly predicted that rising carbon dioxide emissions would lead to atmospheric warming – and in doing so broke with now famously incorrect predictions of global cooling – the impacts of climate change were not yet visible.
Throughout the 1980s, as the scientific consensus on global warming increased and other leading scientists such as James Hansen called for political action, governments debated and discussed the threat of climate change.
At the same time, sceptics and fossil fuel companies consistently sowed doubt about climate science and sought to undermine solutions.
Talk and political inaction has followed in the two decades since, while temperatures have continued to rise. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has said the 20 warmest years on record have occurred in the past 22 years. The past four years have been the world’s warmest.
The result is that the effects of this warming are now visible and weather extremes experienced around the world are being increasingly linked to climate change.