Peter Thorne: World can stabilise global warming within lifetime of today's junior infants

Peter Thorne: World can stabilise global warming within lifetime of today's junior infants

Prof. Thorne said the alternative to reducing emissions "is a climate system that continues to get worse and worse".

The world can stabilise global warming within the lifetime of today’s junior infants, and Ireland must lead by breaking its "fossil fuel addiction", instead of waiting for other countries to do so.

That is according to one of Ireland’s leading climate change scientists, who was reacting to the World Meteorological Organisation's (WMO) stark findings that a range of climate change indicators had broken records in 2021.

The WMO's annual state of the climate report said greenhouse gas concentrations, sea-level rise, ocean heat, and ocean acidification set new records last year.

The past seven years have been the hottest seven years on record, the WMO confirmed, with its secretary-general, Professor Petteri Taalas, saying it is "only a matter of time" before another hottest-ever year is recorded.

Separately, the European Commission's data analysis wing Eurostat said the EU economy's greenhouse gases were above pre-pandemic levels in the last three months of 2021.

Maynooth University professor of physical geography (climate change), Peter Thorne, told the Irish Examiner that the findings are a "stark reminder of the mess we have placed ourselves in".

He said we can get ourselves collectively out of it, but countries like Ireland must take up the mantle instead of waiting for others to do the heavy lifting.

Fossil fuel 'addiction'

Prof. Thorne, who was a contributing lead author of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) previous reports of human-induced global warming, said: "The juxtaposition of reports pointing to the continuing deterioration of our climate system with emissions going the wrong way is indeed a stark reminder of the mess we have placed ourselves in. 

"This mess isn’t just geophysical but also geopolitical. Our addiction to fossil fuels goes to countries of oftentimes dubious aims, that we would not by choice prop up. 

The good news, as made clear in the IPCC’s latest report, is that we have the means to reduce emissions by at least 50% by 2030 if we put our collective minds and efforts to it.

That does require us however to consider these issues literally for each and every choice we make nationally, as companies, as communities and as citizens, he said.

"The alternative to doing so though is a climate system that continues to get worse and worse. We can slow the change and stabilise the climate system within the lifetime of today’s junior infants. 

"But only if we all, as global citizens, make it happen. Waiting for others to move first is a recipe for global inaction. We must be brave and make the right calls to secure our children's future in an Ireland that is energy-independent, biodiverse, and more socially just."

The invasion of Ukraine brings the folly of fossil fuel dependence into focus, he said.

"The war in Ukraine points to the need to stop our addiction to fossil fuels and our reliance upon third parties for our energy needs. We have the potential to be energy-secure using technologies available to us at prices that the latest IPCC report makes clear are already less than our fossil fuel addiction, and trending cheaper still. 

"In other words, we can long term put money in each and every citizen's pocket by undertaking the energy transition as well as stabilising the earth’s climate. The only thing stopping this is, quite literally, our collective selves at this juncture."

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