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The Urgent Call to Action: +1.5°C Global Warming Surpassed

Dr Douglas Rasbash, Boitumelo Pauline Marumo

Electric Towers during Golden Hour

Global warming has breached the critical threshold of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, 15 years earlier than predicted. This alarming development serves as a stark reminder of the urgency for immediate and decisive action from all stakeholders – governments, NGOs, multilateral organizations, businesses, and individuals – to address the escalating climate crisis.

To grasp the gravity of the situation, it's essential to understand the trajectory of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) levels over time. Preindustrial levels, set at 13.68°C with CO2e at 280 ppm, serve as a stark benchmark. Fast forward to 2024, and CO2e levels stand at a staggering 423.6 ppm, marking a significant increase of 63.6 ppm over 28 years.

The stark reality becomes even more pronounced when comparing the rate of increase. From the pre-industrial era to 1995, CO2e levels rose by 80 ppm, averaging a modest 0.5 ppm per year. However, since the inception of the COP process, this rate has soared to 2.1 ppm annually, a fourfold acceleration in just three decades.

A World on Fire: The Global Context
For the first time in recorded history, the stark warnings of scientists have become a tangible reality. European climate monitors have confirmed that the 12-month period between February 2023 and January 2024 saw global temperatures exceed the crucial 1.5°C threshold – a stark symbol of our planet's fever. This news serves as a "warning to humanity," echoing the increasing chorus of concern from researchers worldwide.

The consequences of this transgression are already playing out across the globe. A recent study linked this surge in global temperatures to the unprecedented drought that ravaged the Amazon rainforest, a critical ecological lung. Furthermore, this unrelenting heat wave is not an isolated incident. The year 2023 marked the hottest on record, with storms, droughts, and fires wreaking havoc on ecosystems and populations worldwide. The El Niño phenomenon, known to exacerbate global warming by warming Pacific Ocean surface waters, further amplified these extremes.

While the 1.5°C breach may not be permanent yet, exceeding this threshold even temporarily signifies a dangerous tipping point. The long-term effects, measured over decades, are likely to be far more severe. The implications for Botswana, a nation already grappling with a fragile ecosystem, are particularly concerning.

Botswana's Delicate Balance
Botswana's unique landscape, characterized by the world-renowned Okavango Delta and the vast Kalahari Desert, is highly susceptible to changes in climate. Increased temperatures and altered precipitation patterns threaten this delicate balance. A looming consequence of unchecked climate change for Botswana makes the country vulnerable to water scarcity, food insecurity, biodiversity loss, and mass displacement. February 2024 offered a grim preview, recording the driest February in four decades with maximum temperatures skyrocketing past 37 degrees Celsius. The Southern Africa Seasonal Monitor confirms Botswana's plight, attributing these patterns to El Niño's influence and its documented link to severe rain deficits and poor harvests across the region. Compounding these issues, Botswana has already endured four heatwaves in 2024 alone, with northern regions experiencing scorching temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius.

This confluence of factors – declining rainfall, rising temperatures, and the ever-present threat of El Niño – will significantly strain the country's already limited water resources. This scarcity has already started to cripple agriculture, the lifeblood of many communities, and threaten the very existence of the Okavango Delta, a lifeline for both wildlife and human populations. Botswana's agricultural sector, heavily reliant on rain-fed farming. Droughts and erratic weather patterns will lead to crop failures and disrupt food production, jeopardizing food security for a nation that already imports a significant portion of its food. The ecological disruption caused by climate change will push flora and fauna beyond their tolerance limits, potentially leading to mass extinctions, especially for species already under pressure from habitat loss and poaching. This includes the iconic wildlife of Botswana, a major draw for tourism, putting it at significant risk. The combined effects – water scarcity, food insecurity, and environmental degradation – could trigger mass displacement within Botswana and across the region.

A United Front for a Sustainable Future
The current situation presents a monumental challenge, but it's not insurmountable. Building on a spirit of multilateralism, all stakeholders – governments, multilateral organizations, businesses, and NGOs – must work collaboratively to address the climate crisis. Although Earth's hottest year on record has surpassed the critical 1.5°C warming threshold set by the Paris Agreement. This doesn't break the agreement, but brings us closer to exceeding the limit in the long run. Urgent action to cut carbon emissions is still essential to slow warming and avoid catastrophic consequences. While some temporary reprieve might be expected as El Niño subsides, long-term warming caused by human activities will persist. With continued emissions, the 1.5°C limit could be breached within a decade.
The consequences of exceeding this limit are dire. We've already witnessed extreme weather events like floods, droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires in 2023 and 2024, and these will only worsen with each additional degree of warming.

Researchers are keen to emphasise that humans can still make a difference to the world's warming trajectory. Governments must enact stricter policies to reduce carbon emissions and invest heavily in renewable energy sources. The COP negotiations must ensure ambitious commitments that align with the urgency of the crisis. UNEA-6's resolutions on sustainable practices for energy transition and effective waste management offer valuable blueprints. Empowering youth is also essential. The future belongs to them, and their voices must be heard. Educational initiatives and capacity building programs can equip young people with the knowledge and tools to become climate champions within their communities. Finally, raising awareness about climate change's impact is crucial. NGOs and community leaders can play a vital role in educating the public and promoting sustainable practices like water conservation and drought-resistant agriculture.
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