As leaders and delegates converge in Dubai for the annual UN climate summit, an analysis by Climate Central, a nonprofit climate research group, reveals the vulnerability of host cities from past summits to rising ocean waters. The escalating levels of planet-warming pollution have led to severe droughts, deadly floods, and the rapid melting of glaciers and ice worldwide. The analysis employs peer-reviewed sea level rise projections and local elevation data to visually depict a stark contrast between the present and a potential high-tide future if global temperatures rise to 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
“Decisions made at COP28 will shape the long-term future of Earth’s coast cities, including Dubai,” emphasizes Benjamin Strauss, Chief Scientist, and CEO of Climate Central. This urgency stems from the recent UN report indicating that the world is on track to warm up to 2.9 degrees. Climate scientists underscore the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees beyond which both humans and ecosystems will face challenges in adaptation.
Although the Paris Agreement, established in 2015 at COP21, aimed to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, with a preferable target of 1.5 degrees, the current trajectory risks making coastal communities, low-lying nations, and small islands uninhabitable. Strauss highlights the dependence of these places on swift and substantial carbon pollution reductions to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.
A report from the World Meteorological Organization predicts 2023 to be the hottest year on record. Monthly temperatures from June to October have consistently set new global records, accompanied by unprecedented ocean temperatures. This global warming contributes to accelerated melting of glaciers and ice sheets, even in Antarctica, with potentially devastating implications for global sea level rise.
Climate Central estimates that approximately 385 million people reside in areas prone to eventual inundation by ocean water at high tide, even with substantial reductions in planet-warming pollution. Restricting warming to 1.5 degrees would still affect land inhabited by 510 million people today. However, if global temperatures breach 3 degrees, more than 800 million people could find themselves living in areas threatened by high-tide encroachment, as per a recent study.
While these scenarios may unfold over centuries, scientists emphasize that every fraction of a degree of warming exacerbates the consequences of climate change. The upcoming COP28 discussions will center on strategies to curtail fossil fuel use to avert the escalating risk of an underwater future. This year’s climate talks introduce a new scorecard, revealing countries’ progress on their climate targets and underscoring the urgency of addressing climate pollution, as the window for action is “rapidly narrowing.”