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Extreme heat experts: It’s only going to get worse

Sign heat and heat warnings – It’s unusually hot in several places on Earth right now.

Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Germany, and Marko Romokainen, professor of climatology at Lund University, explain why.

Trinidad and Tobago: Why are we seeing so many heat records at the same time now?

– The main factor is that we have a global temperature increase of 1.2 degrees. In addition, the sea plays a decisive role. More than 90 percent of the global warming caused by human emissions is kept in the oceans, so when we have high surface temperatures in the North Atlantic releasing heat into the air, it’s not surprising that we see temperatures well above the global warming of 1.2 degrees. says Johan Rockström.

The climate scientist explains that it is the interaction between human emissions that affect the climate and natural weather changes that cause heat waves.

– We now have a natural El Niño climate phenomenon that is amplified by human-caused global warming until it becomes a super El Niño, which is the third El Niño supercell in 25 years. These factors create extreme heat across the planet, Johan Rockström says, followed by severe droughts in some parts of the world and floods in others.

El Niño is a recurring natural phenomenon in which easterly winds decrease in the Pacific Ocean, causing warm waters to slosh across the ocean’s surface. This, in turn, affects the climate of the entire globe.

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TT: Are the temperature increases we’re seeing in line with what the scientific community has calculated?

– We understand the underlying processes very well and we know we’re amplifying El Niño. Climate models assume exactly this evolution, that is, that global warming amplifies the natural variability that leads to extreme heat, drought, and heavy rain. What’s surprising is that it happens so quickly and that sometimes we’re 4 or 5 standard deviations above normal. Johan Rockström says it’s not to bed that it happens, but to the fact that it has such powerful effects.


Trinidad and Tobago: Have we passed critical threshold values, the so-called tipping points, for climate now?

– We don’t see it. There are reasons to be concerned, but as far as we know today, we haven’t crossed major thresholds. Instead, a super El Niño will be a year in which we have to experience record heat, but then return to less extreme heat. But the trend is for the average temperature to continue to rise. The risk of crossing thresholds is just around the corner, says Johan Rockström, perhaps in 15-25 years, when we will not temporarily, as now, reach the peak but permanently more than 1.5 degrees.


Trinidad and Tobago: How is the planet affected by heat?

– Some effects fade, others appear for a very long time. For example, when there are large fires, the effect will be visible for a very long time. Marko Romokainen says extreme heat waves at sea can affect marine ecosystems with long-term consequences.

Intense fires release more carbon into the atmosphere, which leads to an increase in global warming.

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Trinidad and Tobago: Can we stop the heat from continuing to rise?

How much the temperature will rise depends on how successful climate action is in reducing global climate emissions. Globally, the countries of the world agreed in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees, and preferably 1.5 degrees. The research shows that there are opportunities and solutions for pursuing those goals, says Marko Romokainen and continues:

– But the current development does not point in this direction, but global emissions have continued to increase.

Even Johan Rockström sees thick clouds of anxiety ahead.

– It will get worse. I sincerely hope that the political leaders of the world see this for what it is and take it as a warning.

– What we are witnessing now is a taste of the 1.5 degree world. In 15-20 years we will be living in a world like this permanently and then El Niño will happen on top of that. What we’re seeing now happen on a 1.2-degree planet, we’re heading for a 2.7-degree planet by the end of the century. You can’t imagine what we will experience next.