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Published April 3, 2019

The Hottest Climate Trends of 2019

In 2017 and 2018 extreme weather events caused heavy losses and damages, as well as rising emissions on the back of a stronger economy after the brief flat period around the Paris Agreement. What will 2019 bring? Let’s look at some familiar as well as some emerging events and actions!

Every year after the conclusion of the Paris Agreement in 2015 has been extraordinary for both the physical climate disruption and ensuing social consequences. The year 2016 can be remembered not only for being the hottest on record, but also for bringing Donald Trump on the world stage like the proverbial tip of the melting iceberg of climate denial.

1. The Physical Situation

The understanding of the urgency, rate and scale of the climate crisis has mainstreamed in many cultures. Apparent climate risks and the ongoing weather weirding are no longer seen as distant future events, but as lived reality in almost all parts of the world.

The UK Met Office is predicting 2019 to be a hot year for surface and ocean temperatures, partly due to the incoming El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean. However, due to the ongoing disruption of the Polar Vortex and ensuing dislocation of Arctic air masses on the northern hemisphere continents, 2019 will likely not be the hottest year on record.

Ocean heat uptake will continue to increase as atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases keep accumulating every year. According to forecasts, 2019 will also see a record increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

2. The New IPCC Report “1.5°C of Global Warming”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its newest report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” in late 2018. It outlines the current understanding of the impacts related to the 1.5°C increase of global mean surface temperatures above pre-industrial levels, the greenhouse gas emissions pathways related to limiting global warming to the 1.5°C increase, as well as what that would mean for sustainable development in general.

The report paints a bleak picture of the climate crisis.

The report paints a bleak picture of the climate crisis. It has perhaps been easier for policymakers and businesses to advocate for business-as-usual trajectories because of the perceived socio-economic difficulty in major transitions to climate-neutrality, but the risk levels are now known to be much worse at 2 degrees of global warming than previously thought.

The future will be radically different either if the world takes serious near-term climate action and decarbonizes the world economy by mid-century or if inadequate action is taken, resulting in catastrophic and irreversible global losses and damages.

3. Youth Climate Activism

Unfortunately, the generations which are going to live through the worst possible consequences of the climate crisis have already been born.

Today’s kids and teenagers might live to see the world’s temperatures rising more than 3°C if humanity fails to make deep and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions during the coming decades and possibly also remove some of the cumulative carbon dioxide already emitted.

The global leader for youth climate activism is Greta Thunberg, 16. Her school strike in front of the Swedish Parliament is one of the most emblematic moments of 2018 and the dramatic increase of youth climate marches will likely continue in 2019 with tens of thousands of teens taking the streets all over the world.

Our Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra and the Finnish youth group Agenda 2030 hosted a youth-designed climate summit in Helsinki with hundreds of guests on 2 March 2019.

4. Asymmetric Carbon Footprints in Consumption

It has become clear for many high-consuming people that their lifestyles contribute significantly to climate disruption and other ecological problems. Lukas Chancel and Thomas Piketty have studied the socio-economic asymmetry of carbon emissions. Roughly 10% of the world’s population creates 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions by their consumption choices.

Roughly 10% of the world’s population creates 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions by their consumption choices.

Greta Thunberg was invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos and her message was clear: the wealthiest and the most powerful people and institutions have not substantially reduced their climate pollution and continue to make the problem worse with their high-consumption behaviours such as flying around the world in private jets. This discussion will surely heat up in 2019.

Sitra and the Finnish Prime Minister’s Office developed a carbon footprint Lifestyle Test with a web platform for individual pledges to significantly reduce personal greenhouse gas emissions. This approach has been very successful with over half a million test runs on Sitra’s website along with vast media coverage! 

5. National and Sectoral Net-Zero Targets

The Nordic countries have had long-term climate policy objectives for some time now, and in Sweden and Finland they are codified into law.

After the IPCC’s new report on 1.5°C of global warming there has been a renewed focus on raising the level of climate change mitigation ambition with a focus on concrete sets of policies in addition to work in the European Union to upgrade its 2030 target and long-term strategy.

Certain large corporations, cities and many municipalities have committed to net-zero climate targets within a specific time frame. IKEA aims to be climate positive by 2030, removing more carbon from the atmosphere than it produces in its operations. Shipping corporation Maersk has a plan to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

6. Fair Transition

The French Yellow Vest (“gilets jaunes”) protests showed the world how climate policies should not be socially or economically unfair. The tax hike for traditional fuels hit the poorest drivers hard, while sectors like aviation and shipping have been mostly exempted from fuel taxation.

Coming back to the theme of youth climate activism, the carbon budget approach to mitigation is deeply unjust towards younger people and future generations. Cumulative carbon emissions very linearly dictate the extent of global warming and the ensuing disruption of the Earth’s system. The more current adult populations emit now, the less there is for young people to use.

The more current adult populations emit now, the less there is for young people to use.

If the budgets are overshot, carbon dioxide will have to be physically removed from the atmosphere at massive, planetary scales in addition to complete decarbonization of the world economy. The size of drawdown would require technological and other operations 2-4 times the size of the current global oil industry.

7. Instead of Hope, Action

Many ordinary people feel that nation states are incapable of delivering the Paris Agreement “well below 2 degrees” framing. The national contributions show rising emissions through 2030.

However, climate disruption has arrived in many social realities all around the planet. It has become a major political topic as well, and the IPCC’s new report has provoked new climate action.

Almost anyone can act on climate – to reduce emissions, adapt to observed and coming change and to demand action from those who are the most responsible: governments, large corporations and the high-consuming adults of today.

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