Climate Change: A Review of 2022 and Projections for 2023
Heena Samant, Research Associate, VIF

Over the past year, the impact of climate change has escalated significantly. The threats emanating from this existential crisis are increasingly multifaceted and interlocking in nature and continue to test the capability of states and governments to effectively deal with them. This article looks back at key developments in 2022 such as extreme weather events, CO2 emissions, the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP27, alarming discoveries, and projections for 2023 and beyond.

A year of escalating extreme weather events

The impact of climate change was clearer than ever before in 2022. That was evident in some of the most severe weather events that have battered many parts of the world. From mid-June until the end of August 2022, Pakistan experienced record-breaking monsoonal rainfall, leading to large parts of the country being flooded. The flood submerged over 30 per cent of the country’s territory and it affected more than 33 million people, destroyed 1.7 million homes, and resulted in 1,500 deaths.[1] The flood also destroyed around 6,700 kilometres of road, 269 bridges, and 1,460 health facilities. Also, around 18,000 square kilometres of cropland were ruined, including roughly 45 per cent of the cotton crop – one of the nation’s key exports. The loss of food crops was estimated to total around USD 2.3 billion. Catastrophic flooding also struck many other countries throughout 2022 including Australia, China, India, Nigeria, Thailand, Vietnam, and Venezuela.

The Pakistan floods were preceded by a searing heatwave that hit the eastern part of the country as well as northwestern India. Beginning in March, both countries were plunged into the grip of a record-breaking heatwave. The heatwave is estimated to have led to at least 90 deaths across both countries. It also reduced India’s wheat crop yields, causing the government to reverse an earlier plan to supplement the global wheat supply that has been impacted by the war in Ukraine. A shortage of coal in India further led to power outages that limited access to cooling, compounding health impacts and forcing millions of people to use coping mechanisms such as limiting activity to the early morning and evening. The heatwave has also triggered an extreme Glacial Lake Outburst Flood in northern Pakistan that destroyed homes, hydropower plants, and bridges. It also triggered forest fires in India. Dangerous heatwaves has also engulfed parts of China, Europe, and the US. The EU’s Copernicus climate change service observed that 2022 was the hottest ever recorded in Europe. [2] More than 20,000 people died across Western Europe as a result of it.

Some of the most severe weather events that have occurred around the world in 2022 were made far more likely by climate change. Scientists have long been reluctant to talk about the climate change influence upon discrete events. They preferred a more general probabilistic framing. Not anymore. Using increasingly powerful climate models, along with historical observations, scientists are now able to provide more precise, and rapid, assessment of the influence of the climate change on certain extreme weather events and disasters. As such, they have concluded that the apocalyptic flood that hit Pakistan in 2022 was made up to “50 per cent worse” by global warming.[3] Likewise, they also concluded that the devastating heatwave that struck India and Pakistan last year was also made “30 times more likely” by global warming.[4] The dangerous heatwave that engulfed Europe in 2022 would also have been “virtually impossible” without global warming.[5]

No let up in CO2 emissions and fossil fuel projects

Even as the impact of climate change has become more apparent in 2022, there has been no let up in global CO2 emissions and fossil fuel projects. Avoiding the worst ravages of climate change requires limiting the increase in global average temperature to 1.5°C (it is currently 1.1°C). That in turn requires CO2 emissions to fall by about half by 2030. But in 2022, CO2 emissions will have risen to a record level. Analysis by the Global Carbon Project (GCP), an organisation that seeks to quantify global greenhouse gas emissions and their causes, found that fossil fuel related CO2 is on course to rise by one per cent to 36.6 billion tonnes in 2022, the highest ever.[6] If that trend continues, the 1.5°C warming target could be breached within a decade. The continued expansion of the so-called “carbon bomb” oil and gas projects are to be blamed for it.

“Carbon bomb” is defined as fossil fuel projects that are capable of pumping at least one billion tonnes of CO2 emissions over their lifetimes. An analysis by the British newspaper The Guardian in May 2022 revealed that the world’s biggest fossil fuel firms have “quietly planned” a number of carbon bomb oil and gas projects.[7] In all, 195 carbon bombs are being planned by fossil fuel firms including Qatar Energy (Qatar), Gazprom (Russia), Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia), ExxonMobil (USA), Petrobras (Brazil), Turkmengaz (Turkmenistan), TotalEnergies (France), Chevron (USA), Shell (UK), and BP (UK). These carbon bombs would each result in at least a billion tonnes of CO2 emissions over their lifetimes. Collectively, that amounted to 646 gigatonnes of CO2 (GtCO2) emissions. That is equivalent to about 18 years of current global CO2 emissions and it will swallow up the world’s entire carbon budget. About 60 per cent of these carbon bomb oil and gas projects have already started operation. The US, Canada, and Australia are among the countries with the biggest expansion plans and the highest number of carbon bombs. They also give some of the world’s biggest subsidies for fossil fuels per capita. Planned drilling projects across the US alone, the world’s largest oil producer, is projected to release 140 billion metric tons of planet-heating gases if fully realized. Research has also revealed that the oil and gas industry is extraordinarily profitable and that major players such as Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron have made almost USD 2 trillion in profits between 1990 and 2020.[8] Exxon was the most profitable of the big four over the past three decades, making a total of USD 775 billion. Shell was second with USD 524 billion, followed by Chevron on USD 360 billion and BP on USD 332 billion. In all, from 1970 to 2020, the world’s oil and gas industry delivered USD 2.8 billion a day or USD 1 trillion a year on average in pure profit.[9] Experts have cautioned that the vast sums earned by the world’s oil and gas giants have provided them the power to “buy every politician, every system” and delay action on climate change.

Missed opportunity

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP27 that was held at Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt from 6-20 November 2022 was the key event intended to ramp up global action on climate change. The main aim of the climate summit was to spur action towards achieving the world’s collective climate goals as agreed under the Paris Agreement in 2015 i.e. keeping the rise in global average temperature to “well below 2°C” above pre-industrial levels and “pursuing efforts” to keep the riser to 1.5°C. Science since then has shown clearly that 2°C is not safe.[10] So at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, countries agreed to focus on achieving the 1.5°C limit. Achieving that target requires a peak in global emissions by 2025, a fall by 50 per cent by 2030, and eventually reaching net zero emissions by 2050. A number of countries have since pledged to cut their emissions drastically and even achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and a little beyond. In fact, as of November 2022, around 140 countries had announced or are considering net zero targets, covering close to 90 per cent of global emissions.[11] Those pledges turned out to be highly inadequate. Given this backdrop, it was hoped that COP27 would secure stronger emissions reduction pledges to achieve the 1.5°C target. However, only a fraction of the nearly 200 parties that attended the climate summit has updated their national climate targets that are consistent with that goal. Most critically, efforts to include a commitment to phase out, or at least phase down, all fossil fuels in the final COP27 deal text, the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, were thwarted by oil-producing countries and high emitters. Thus, a 1.5°C limit to the global temperature rise looks even further out of reach and it may have even died at COP27 in 2022.

COP27 did produce a historic agreement on the creation of the Loss and Damage Fund. The fund would pay out to rescue and rebuild the physical and social infrastructure of countries, mostly developing ones, ravaged by extreme weather events. Although developing countries contributed little to the climate change, they are disproportionately affected by it. The Loss and Damage Collaboration (L&DC), a group of researchers, activists, creatives, and decision makers from both the global North and South, observed in a report that the number of extreme climate and weather related events that developing countries experiences has more than doubled since 1991, the year that the tiny Pacific island of Vanuatu first proposed a mechanism to address Loss and Damage. The report also estimated that since 1991, 189 million people have been affected every year on average by extreme climate and weather related events in developing countries.[12] In all, developing countries have experienced 79 per cent of recorded deaths and 97 per cent of the total recorded number of affected people since 1991. Developing countries however find it harder to respond and to recover from an extreme event owing to the lack of resources. The creation of the Loss and Damage Fund will therefore enable them to adapt to climate change more effectively.

The creation of Loss and Damage Fund during COP27 however could create more schism between developed and some developing countries in the years ahead. As developed countries softened their stand on the issue, the status of China came under the spotlight, along with that of other countries classed as “developing” under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). That treaty recognized developed countries as donors and developing countries as recipients. Countries like China is still being classified as developing country although it now has the world’s second biggest economy and is responsible for more cumulative emissions than any country other than the US. Other countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc. are also classified as developing country although they have per capita income and per capita emissions that are comparable to those of developed countries. It is therefore plausible that future global climate summits will focus keenly on the “developing” status of these countries and there will be growing calls for them to pay up for loss and damage also.

Outlook for 2023

Overall, the global outlook for 2023 remains bleak. Some of the inevitable and irreversible impacts of climate change that have already been set in motion will continue to wreak havoc throughout the year. That fact has been alluded to by a slew of reports that were published in 2022. A study published in the journal Science in September indicated that the Earth “may have left a ‘safe’ climate state beyond 1°C global warming” and that the risk of climate tipping points has risen rapidly as the world heats up.[13] The authors of the study warned that five climate tipping points may already have been passed due to the 1.1°C of global warming caused by humanity to date. These included the collapse of Greenland’s ice cap, the collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a key current in the Atlantic Ocean, and an abrupt melting of carbon-rich permafrost. Notwithstanding such stark warnings, one UN study published in October concluded that there was “no credible pathway in place to 1.5°C” and that progress on cutting CO2 emissions was “woefully inadequate.”[14] The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP28, slated to be held in Dubai from 30 November-12 December, will provide the much needed platform for accelerated climate action. Whether or not world leaders will finally heed to the warnings of scientists and make pledges to drastically reduce CO2 emissions as a matter of urgency however remains to be seen.

India will also continue to feel the impacts of climate change. In fact, the country was consistently ranked as one of the world’s most affected by extreme weather events over the past several years.[15] It is therefore highly probable that in 2023, extreme weather events such as heatwave, drought, floods, and tropical cyclones will continue to batter the country with increasing frequency and intensity. In the face of these challenges, India is likely to continue to take an active part in global efforts to combat climate change. The country’s solid representation during COP27 in Egypt in 2022, where it sent 70 official delegates, was indicative of its faith in multilateralism, the UN in particular. It is also indicative of its wish to be a part of the solution to global problems like climate change. On the domestic front, India is likely to continue to act on its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). NDC is a climate action plan to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts and it is at the heart of the 2015 Paris Agreement. As per its recently revised NDC, India is committed to reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 45 per cent by 2030, achieving about 50 per cent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030, and eventually achieving net-zero emissions by 2070.[16] Although India has contributed only around four per cent of global cumulative CO2 emissions from 1850 to 2019, the country will continue to do its fair share to combat climate change.[17]

Endnotes :

[1]Otto, Friederike E. L. et al. 2022, “Climate change likely increased extreme monsoon rainfall, flooding highly vulnerable communities in Pakistan.” World Weather Attribution. September 14. https://www.worldweatherattribution.org/wp-content/uploads/Pakistan-floods-scientific-report.pdf
[2] “Copernicus: Summer 2022 Europe’s hottest on record.” Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). September 8, 2022. https://climate.copernicus.eu/copernicus-summer-2022-europes-hottest-record
[3]Otto, Friederike E. L. et al. 2022. “Climate change likely increased extreme monsoon rainfall, flooding highly vulnerable communities in Pakistan.” World Weather Attribution. September 14. https://www.worldweatherattribution.org/wp-content/uploads/Pakistan-floods-scientific-report.pdf
[4]Zachariah, Mariam et al. 2022. “Climate Change made devastating early heat in India and Pakistan 30 times more likely.” World Weather Attribution. March. https://www.worldweatherattribution.org/wp-content/uploads/India_Pak-Heatwave-scientific-report.pdf
[5]Schumacher, Dominik L. et al. 2022. “High temperatures exacerbated by climate change made 2022 Northern Hemisphere soil moisture droughts more likely.” World Weather Attribution. October. https://www.worldweatherattribution.org/wp-content/uploads/WCE-NH-drought-scientific-report.pdf
[6]Global Carbon Project. 2022. “Global Carbon Budget 2022.” Earth System Science Data (ESSD). Volume 14. Issue 11. November 11. https://essd.copernicus.org/articles/14/4811/2022/essd-14-4811-2022.pdf
[7]Carrington, Damian and Matthew Taylor. 2022. “Revealed: the ‘carbon bombs’ set to trigger catastrophic climate breakdown.” The Guardian. May 11. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2022/may/11/fossil-fuel-carbon-bombs-climate-breakdown-oil-gas
[8]Taxpayers for Common Sense. 2020. “Padding Big Oil’s Profits: Companies Bank Trillions, Taxpayers Get The Bill.” O & G Report. February. https://www.taxpayer.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/TCS-Padding-Big-Oil-Profits_Feb.-2020.pdf
[9]Carrington, Damian. 2022. “Revealed: oil sector’s ‘staggering’ $3bn-a-day profits for last 50 years.” The Guardian. July 21. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jul/21/revealed-oil-sectors-staggering-profits-last-50-years
[10]IPCC. 2018. “Summary for Policymakers.” In “Global Warming of 1.5°C.” An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA, pp. 3-24. https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/2/2022/06/SPM_version_report_LR.pdf
[11] “CAT net zero target evaluations.” Climate Action Tracker (CAT). Undated. https://climateactiontracker.org/global/cat-net-zero-target-evaluations/
[12]Loss and Damage Collaboration. 2022. “The Cost of Delay: Why finance to address Loss and Damage must be agreed at COP27.” Brief. October 24. https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/605869242b205050a0579e87/6355adbb4f3fdf583b15834b_L%26DC_THE_COST_OF_DELAY_.pdf
[13]McKay, et al. 2022. “Exceeding 1.5°C global warming could trigger multiple climate tipping points.” Science. Volume 337. No. 6611. September 9. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abn7950
[14]United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 2022. “Emissions Gap Report 2022: The Closing Window Climate crisis calls for rapid transformation of societies.” Nairobi. https://www.unep.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2022#:~:text=Yet%20the%20Emissions%20Gap%20Report,transformation%20can%20avoid%20climate%20disaster.
[15]Eckstein, David, Vera Künzel, Laura Schäfer. 2021. “Global Climate Risk Index 2021.” Briefing Paper. Germanwatch. January. Bonn. https://www.germanwatch.org/sites/default/files/Global%20Climate%20Risk%20Index%202021_2.pdf
[16] “Cabinet approves India’s Updated Nationally Determined Contribution to be communicated to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.” PIB Delhi. August 3, 2022. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1847812#:~:text=The%20updated%20NDC%20seeks%20to,in%20low%20emissions%20growth%20pathways.
[17] “India used far less than its share of global carbon budget, emissions can grow: Govt.” Economic Times. July 30, 2022. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/india-used-far-less-than-its-share-of-global-carbon-budget-emissions-can-grow-govt/articleshow/93226234.cms

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Image Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2022-09-08/how-pakistan-s-catastrophic-floods-spiraled-into-a-nightmare

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