Good news and bad news about climate change

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While South Africa – among a number of other countries – is currently experiencing a drought, scientists are warning that the frequency of extreme rain storms is going to increase over the next 70 years. Extreme storms produce at least 3 millimetres of rain per hour over a 25 kilometre area.

Climate change collision courseBased on 15 years of data acquired by NASA, the study team drew a correlation between warming of the tropical oceans due to climate change and increasing severity of rain storms. Using data collected by NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument over the tropical oceans, the researchers found that extreme storms formed when the sea surface temperature was higher than 28 degrees Celsius, and that 21% more storms form for every 1 degree Celsius that ocean surface temperatures rise.

This is the first time scientists have quantified just how much warmer waters might affect storm frequency, and the team behind the study warns that climate change will only make things worse. “More storms mean more flooding, more structure damage, more crop damage and so on, unless mitigating measures are implemented,” the study leader, Hartmut Aumann of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

Currently accepted climate models project that with a steady increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is 1% per year, tropical ocean surface temperatures may rise by as much as 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. The study found that if this were to happen, the frequency of extreme storms is expected to increase by as much as 60% by that time.

However, that might not happen. There has been some good climate change news in that the hole in the ozone is getting smaller, and that the Earth only warmed up by a fraction of a degree last year.

According to a new UN report, Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2018, we can now expect to see significant improvement in the ozone layer, especially over the northern hemisphere, by 2030. 

The Antarctic ozone hole may be completely gone by the year 2060.

The ozone holes were first discovered in the ‘80s, with scientists blaimg chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as the main culprit. In 1987, the UN Environment Programme adopted the Montreal Protocol which bans the use of ozone-depleting substances such as CFCs.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment has told the international media that the Montreal Protocol, is “one of the most successful multilateral agreements in history”. “The careful mix of authoritative science and collaborative action that has defined the Protocol for more than 30 years and was set to heal our ozone layer is precisely why the Kigali Amendment holds such promise for climate action in future,” he said.

The Kigali Amendment will revise targets under the Montreal Protocol, and will mandate the search for alternatives to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), present in refrigerants and cooling appliances, are a form of greenhouse gas that trap sunlight in the earth's atmosphere.

If this is ratified this year, the Earth may avoid a 0.2 to 0.4 degrees increase. This is in line with the Paris Agreement's plan to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees.

In light of this, it’s not inconceivable that we will be able to slow global warming, even though it’s extremely unlikely that any human efforts will do more than just slow climate change. But even slowing the effects of climate change will save millions of lives that would otherwise have been lost through natural disasters such as floods and droughts.

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.