Evolution of climate change: where are we at, and where are we going?

A detailed analysis of climate change progress, extreme weather phenomena and global action to reduce CO2 emissions.
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Since climate change started to occupy news headlines and form part of daily conversations, the world has trod a long path, both in understanding and action. But the journey is far from over. Today, the state of climate change paints a complex picture of advances, challenges and opportunities. How has climate change progressed from the first warnings to the current efforts to mitigate its effects?

What will I learn from this article?

  • Evolution of the climate crisis
  • Current state of climate change
  • Actions to mitigate climate change

How has climate change evolved?

When climate change became a serious topic for discussion, in the final decades of the 20th Century, mainly, it was a distant concept for many. Scientific warnings were frequently received with skepticism and indifference. The accumulation of scientific evidence, however, and the tangible impacts on our environment, changed public perception and the global response.

The signing of international accords such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement marked important milestones in the collective commitment against the climate emergency. But the implementation and fulfilment of these accords came up against obstacles, revealing the complexity of international negotiations and the political and economic realities of each country.

All the while, the temperature of the world continues to rise and the UN is now even saying that we have gone from global warming to global boiling


Where are we at with climate change today - and how bad is it getting?

What’s certain is that climate change is now an inescapable reality. The global temperature is increasing year by year. Extreme weather phenomena have become more common and severe - from heatwaves to devastating hurricanes. And, due to the melting of the poles, the sea level is a greater and greater threat for many coastal areas.


Increase in the global temperature

According to NASA, the average temperature of the surface of the Earth in 2023 was the warmest registered since records began in 1880. The Earth was generally around 1.36ºC warmer in 2023 than the average in the preindustrial era at the end of the 19th Century (1850-1900). The last 10 years were also the warmest on record.

In this article we discussed how the temperature in Europe was rising twice as fast as the rest of the planet. 2022 was a landmark, with temperatures 2.3ºC above the average during the preindustrial era.

Advancing climate change translates into droughts, with the Horn of Africa one of the most affected. This region has experienced five consecutive seasons of drought followed by devastating floods. The drought has reduced the capacity of the soil to absorb water, aggravating the risk of flooding when April and May rains arrive, the WMO says.


“The Earth was around 1.36ºC warmer in 2023 than the average in the preindustrial era at the end of the 19th Century”


Effects of climate change: extreme weather phenomena

Freddy was the longest and strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded. It began in February 2023 and lasted 34 days, exceeding the previous record by 3 days. Although Freddy touched land in several countries, according to the UN Malawi was the most affected. The cyclone caused land and mud slides that killed 1,000 people and 695,000 to flee their homes.

Meanwhile, Mexico is facing a new hurricane season with the damage caused by Otis, a maximum Category 5 that hit Guerrero in October 2023, still fresh in the minds. Otis was the worst cyclone to have touched land in the Eastern Pacific since records began.


CO2 emissions

Carbon dioxide levels continue to break records, contributing to global warming. According to the annual report by The Global Carbon Budget Office, CO2 emissions derived from burning fossil fuels amounted to 36.8 billion metric tons in 2023, 1.1% more than in 2022.

CO2 emissions from fossil fuels might be falling in some regions, including Europe and the United States, but overall they are still increasing and scientists say that the global measures to reduce them are not being introduced quickly enough to avoid worsening climate change.


“CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels amounted to 36.8 billion metric tons in 2023, 1.1% more than in 2022”


Melting of the poles and rising sea levels

Climate change progress also signifies a quickening in the melting of the poles, simultaneously causing a rise in the sea level. A recent study led by researchers from the University of California in Irvine (USA), published in February in the review Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that the increase in the ocean’s temperature is speeding up the melting of the Thwaites Glacier, also known as the “Doomsday Glacier”, located in the West Antarctic.

The Thwaites Glacier, with dimensions of approximately 120 kilometers across and 1.2 km deep, contains enough ice to raise the sea level by some 60 centimeters. This phenomenon represents a significant threat, since it could unleash a considerable rise in the sea level, seriously impacting coastal areas worldwide.

We are still in time: actions to stop the advance of climate change

Yet there are signs of hope. Over the years, various strategies have been implemented to tackle climate change. Technological advances have played a crucial role, from the development of renewable energies to the invention of carbon capture solutions. Public policies have also evolved, including incentives for adopting clean technologies, emission regulations and awareness campaigns.

The human capacity for innovation and adaptation has never been so apparent. The energy transition toward a system based on 100% renewable energy is gaining steam, with investments and technological developments taking us closer to a low-carbon economy.

The Renewable Capacity Statistics 2024 report, published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), showed that in 2023 a new record was established by the energy sector for the roll out of clean energies, as they reached a capacity of 3,870 Gigawatts (GW) worldwide. This represented 86% of added capacity.

Another positive action which will contribute to halting the climate crisis is the Global Oceans Treaty signed by UN member states, a historic deal that will protect at least 30% of the marine resources on the high seas and will offer a legal framework to safeguard biodiversity.

Elsewhere, the Montreal Protocol Scientific Assessment Panel published a report confirming that the ozone layer is recovering thanks to the elimination of the chemical substances that harm it. Indeed, if current policies are maintained, it is hoped that 1980 levels will be restored by around 2066 in the Antarctic, 2045 in the Arctic and 2040 in the rest of the world.

Climate change is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest challenges of our time. But this challenge also represents an unprecedented opportunity to re-imagine and re-build our societies more sustainably and fairly. Collective action, innovation and commitment are key to changing the current trajectory toward a promising future.

The planet has reached a critical juncture. The actions we take today will determine the quality of life for future generations. Despite the obstacles, there are reasons to be hopeful and to work together toward a world where harmony with our environment is not only an aspiration, but a reality.