The Climate Clock: time is ticking


A few weeks ago at 15:20, a message appeared on Metronome’s digital clock in New York. Usually used to show time to the millisecond, words alerting the public about climate change flashed up instead. Following this, a countdown began. There are two sets of numbers on the clock, one of which indicates how long it is until there is too much CO2 in the atmosphere to keep global warming at less than 1.5°C below pre-industrial levels, and the other displaying the percentage of the world’s resources used that are currently renewable. This was installed for climate week, but it is the aim of the two artists who designed it to make it a permanent feature. This poses the question: how do we ensure the issue of climate change does not get forgotten in a world full of crises?

Young people have taken action with regular climate strikes led by Greta Thunberg, recognising how important it is to inform the general public of the immediate threat of climate change. Change must be made in our everyday decisions, as well as in our politics, where, by voting, we must make intentions to fight this issue clear. This conversation must continue in order to reduce the effects of global warming, some of which are already evident, such as the frequent wildfires in California. The climate clock acts as a visual reminder of how little time we have left to make a drastic change in the way the world functions. However, for effective change, action is required from world leaders.

The climate clock acts as a visual reminder of how little time we have left

According to the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), the atmosphere can only absorb a maximum of 420 Gt of CO2 before the 1.5°C limit is reached, with 1331 tons/sec currently being emitted. At this rate, there are only around 7 years left to reduce emissions. This time frame means it is crucial to act promptly, and yet it seems governments around the world have been slow to respond.

In 2019, President Trump moved to leave the Paris agreement, which endeavours to prevent a disastrous temperature rise of above 2°C. This was done despite the fact that in 2018 the US CO2 emissions stood at 5.41Gt. This is a move that could have devastating consequences if the US does not tackle climate change outside of the agreement. Due to this withdrawal, it may be more difficult to convince major American-owned corporations to reduce their carbon emissions, some of which are the biggest contributors.

An International Energy Agency commentary piece stated that “global emissions need to peak as soon as possible and then fall rapidly until they hit [net] zero”. This, in line with the UN climate summit aims, needs to happen by 2050 at the latest. Many countries have increased their limit to 2°C, however the impacts of this would be dire. A report conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change illustrated that many areas of the world have had at least one season where temperatures have broken this 1.5°C barrier already.

“Global emissions need to peak as soon as possible and then fall rapidly until they hit [net] zero”

Despite making headlines when installed, the climate clock is just one of many temporary measures. A big issue with climate change is the communication of its reality to the general population, and the clock provides us with an opportunity to consider how we can educate others and the urgency of the situation. A similar display was also seen in Berlin in 2019, and the next is expected to be seen in Paris in 2021. However, this yearly reminder needs to go beyond a countdown; it should, and must, incite change.

Image: Kristina D.C. Hoeppner via Flickr

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