April 20, 2024

Time is running out on the Climate Clock

An ominous, 62-foot-tall clock towers over New York City’s iconic Union Square, and it’s about to tick over an anxious milestone. It’s called the Climate Clock, and it counts down how much time the world has left to stop climate change from getting worse.

As anyone who has experienced the recent weather knows, the situation is already bad. The beginning of the month saw the hottest week on record in the world, according to the preliminary datastill with heat waves breaking local records across the Northern Hemisphere. And that’s one way climate change is ushering in dangerous new extremes.

Today, the planet is about 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than it was before the Industrial Revolution, thanks to carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. What is driving more intense heat waves, wildfires, storms, and sea level rise. That’s why world leaders have agreed, as part of the landmark Paris agreement, to keep the planet from warming much more than it already has. Each fraction of a degree comes with more severe consequences.

Each fraction of a degree comes with more severe consequences

The Climate Clock shows how much time is left before continuing CO2 emissions are locked in at least 1.5 degrees of global warming, a key threshold for global climate targets under the Paris agreement. Today, the time left on the clock is under six years. In other words, if people continue to pump in about the same amount of CO2 pollution in the next five years or so, we will no longer be able to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees of warming.

The founders of the Climate Clock are holding events across five continents today to highlight the waning time left, calling it Climate Emergency Day. That includes watching beneath the giant digital clock that faced Union Square from 2020 onwards.

“Yesterday was the best day to take action. But we are using it [climate] data to create a timeline that empowers governments and activists to demand change,” says Becca Richie, global community manager for the Climate Clock organization that grew after the main clock was established in New York City. “The solutions we need can be enacted in that time frame and stay below 1.5 degrees.”

The clock started out as an artistic form of activity. It is meant to be a symbol, sort of like the Doomsday Clock meant to serve as “a metaphor for how close humanity is to self-annihilation.” The Union Square Climate Clock was originally scheduled to go on display during New York Climate Week in 2020, but has permanently replaced the 24-hour clock unveiled in 1999 as part of an art installation called Metronome.

The clock shows data from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Community and Climate Change (MCC) in Berlin. He is no counting down to the exact date global average temperatures could rise by over 1.5 degrees Celsius. Instead, it is estimating how much time is likely to remain before humans produce enough carbon dioxide pollution to trigger at least 1.5 degrees of warming.

That’s under the assumption that global emissions keep up at a pace similar to 2019 before the covid-19 pandemic temporarily reduced pollution as economies slowed. Unfortunately, pollution has increased to pre-pandemic levels. Last year was even a record year for energy-related CO2 emissions.

That makes every minute count on the Climate Clock. The display in Union Square shows key benchmarks for “lights” that could keep the world on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. A transition to renewable energy is one of those lifelines, and the clock periodically shows the percentage of global energy consumption that comes from renewable sources such as wind and solar energy – just under 14 percent today.

“Action is needed now. Energy infrastructure and structural change is not something you do in a few months. It’s something that needs years,” says Sabine Fuss, who heads the working group on sustainable resource management and global change at MCC. “Even if you have a little more time, it still means you have to act now.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *