Updated Jul 28, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Extreme weather may aid global climate push

Photo illustration of a person drinking water, the sun and Dubai's skyline.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Mehmet Emin Menguarslan/Anadolu Agency, Giuseppe Cacace/AFP, Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Unparalleled extreme weather simultaneously affecting multiple continents are reverberating in domestic U.S. politics, and may provide much-needed tailwinds for the upcoming United Nations' Climate Summit in Dubai.

Why it matters: The world is falling short of meeting Paris climate targets, particularly the 1.5-degree Celsius goal that small island nations view as essential to their survival.

  • For example, though it is a single month and not a long-term average, July’s monthly average global temperature was 1.5°C (2.6°F) above pre-industrial levels, new data showed on Thursday.

The big picture: The upcoming UN climate negotiations are a critical moment, when rapid and steep new emissions reduction commitments would be required in order to reach net zero emissions by midcentury, or earlier.

  • A recent study found the deadly heat waves in the U.S., Europe would be “virtually impossible” in the absence of human-caused global warming, and dramatically boosted the likelihood and severity of China’s record heat heat as well.

At a press conference on Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said current events are "entirely consistent with predictions and repeated warnings. The only surprise is the speed of the change.”

  • “The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived," he added.

Flashback: There is a history of extreme weather events having an influence in the negotiating halls of COP summits.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. on Thursday, President Biden leveraged weeks of relentless heat across the country to roll out proposals to better protect people from deadly heat. He cited the "existential threat" of climate change and recent extremes hitting the U.S.

Reality check: Heading into COP28, Countries remain far apart on an ambitious emissions reduction agenda, with fissures visible at last week’s G20 Energy Ministers’ meeting in Goa, India.

  • Officials failed to agree to a communique, but instead put out a lengthy document that left out key COP28 planks.
  • Sultan Al-Jaber, the COP28 president-designate, had publicly called for the phase down of unabated coal by 2030; accelerating “the inevitable and responsible phase-down of all fossil fuels;" and tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030, but countries did not agree to these measures, reportedly due to opposition from Saudi Arabia.
  • On Thursday, al-Jaber and Simon Stiell, the top U.N. climate official, issued a joint letter calling for more ambitious actions to come out of an ongoing G20 climate ministers meeting in Chennai.
  • “This year, more than ever, unity is a prerequisite for success,” they wrote, citing recent extreme weather events.

What they’re saying: Pete Ogden, a climate expert at the U.N. Foundation, said the ongoing extremes are providing a boost in one critical area: public awareness. That could translate into more pressure to act at COP28.

  • “The only number that people probably track more closely than gas prices is the daily temperature – so when they see strings of heat records like this, they know that this is not just business as usual and that there must be something behind it that needs to be addressed,” he said.
  • “And that thing is climate change.”
Go deeper