From spring’s start to sea heat, data tells tale of climate action

A big range of indicators could help the world understand whether enough is being done to meet goals to curb climate change, scientists say.

Advances in using indicators to track everything from sea surface temperatures to maternal mortality are helping better determine whether progress is being made to curb climate change, in line with new international agreements, scientists say.

Scientists looking at years of data ranging from the number of extreme weather events to the annual start of spring weather say the statistics can help experts understand how the climate is changing – and suggest whether enough is being done to curb changes.

“This is credible and solid science. We’re not living in the Trump post-truth era,” said Hugh Montgomery, a University College London professor of intensive care medicine, speaking as part of a panel discussion at Imperial College London this week.

“We want these to be credible, meaningful, understandable, scientific data” that can help drive the right action, he said.

Understanding what is currently lost or affected by disasters is highly complex, but it’s fundamental if we’re going to succeed in mitigating the effects of future disasters.

Rishma Maini, senior disaster risk reduction specialist, Public Health England

Lancet Countdown, a global research collaboration aimed at tracking progress on climate change goals, organised the event to examine action toward achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to hold global temperature rise to “well under” 2 degrees Celsius.

Since the Industrial Revolution, world temperatures have already risen about 1 degree Celsius.

For instance, accurately measuring risks that could lead to disasters could help indicate progress in dealing with climate change. That could become more important in the future as extreme weather increases, said Rishma Maini, a senior disaster risk reduction specialist with Public Health England.

“Understanding what is currently lost or affected by disasters is highly complex, but it’s fundamental if we’re going to succeed in mitigating the effects of future disasters,” she said.

Cutting disaster risk

Reducing disaster risks from climate change is one of the aims of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a global agreement adopted by 2015.

By having set indicators and targets for reducing risks, she said, “we’ll be better able to hold governments to account, challenging (them) to do better”.

However, Anthony Costello, director of the Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at the World Health Organisation, warned that there is a danger in trying to prioritise too many indicators. Scientists have to be smart about which ones they point up to governments as most relevant, he said.

“If we overload the system with so many indicators that it’s kind of an economist’s dream – but not actually elicit any action from politicians – then we’ve got a problem, and that’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “Which ones excite politicians or their electorate the most?”

But the fact that governments have adopted international agreements on climate change and disaster risk reduction is a reason to be optimistic, Maina said, because it mandates “an objective way of tracking our progress”.

Montgomery said the world faces grave risks from climate change, but needs to focus on taking action to reduce those risks.

“The only way people survive the plane crash is if they dash for the exit. They sit there, they’re going to get incinerated,” he said. “So I act as if there is a chance.”

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate.

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