By Hope Steadman (she / her)
2022 served as a symbolic reminder of the climate devastation the Earth is heading towards, with record temperatures and climate disasters across the globe. Environmental concern seemed to dominate the headlines more than ever, with optimism to be found in the increasing levels of political action worldwide. There were high-profile public protests and numerous corporate responsibility programmes demanding ever-more attention. And yet, temperatures continue to rise, with increasing instability of the climate agenda, perpetuated by the ongoing Ukraine invasion, political turmoil in the UK, and the global energy crisis. This article briefly summarises some of the biggest news headlines from 2022 regarding climate change, before looking forward to 2023 and the big questions that will need to be answered.
2022 was the 5th warmest year recorded globally, with Europe also facing its warmest Summer on record (McGrath, 2023). The UK recorded temperatures above 40 degrees for the first time, with severe risks declared to health and infrastructure (Carrington, 2022). The polar regions were hit particularly hard by the rising temperatures, for example, the Vostok Station in Antarctica recorded a temperature of -17.7 degrees, the warmest in it’s 65 year history (Copernicus, 2023). 2022 has now become the eighth year in a row where the Earth’s temperature continues to be at least 1 degree hotter than the long-term average, making the Paris Climate Agreement’s 1.5 degree target increasingly unlikely to be hit (Copernicus, 2023). This was alongside increases in greenhouse gas emissions and the rise of fire emissions, particularly in Europe where the hot and dry Summer led to grassland and forest burning on an unprecedented scale (Phys Org, 2022). In August, it was reported that European wildfires had burnt through an area equivalent to one-fifth of the size of Belgium (Henley, 2022).
2022 was a year of climate disaster, not least due to the European wildlifes. The floods in Pakistan impacted over 33 million people, submerging a third of the country (Carrington, 2022). It’s estimated that $16.3billion is needed in funds for Pakistan to fully recover from the disaster (BBC News, 2023). Greatly impacting Pakistan’s economy, the country is now struggling to pay for energy imports in the face of the global energy crisis, with shopping centres ordered to close early in January to conserve fossil fuel resources (Liang, 2023). Alongside this, in September the US faced the most deadly hurricane it’s seen since Katrina (Habeshian, 2022). While Europe experienced record warmth, winter storms clouded the Christmas season in North America, demonstrating the increasing extremes in climate the world is facing (Cuff, 2023).
Climate diplomacy and politics
COP27 was a disappointment for many in 2022, with global climate talks characterised by withdrawals of previous greenhouse gas agreements and fractious debates (Harvey, 2022a). In 2009, richer developed countries promised to pay $100 billion every year to countries experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change, but it was reported in July that these funding goals had not been met (Abnett, 2022). The UK signed off on it’s first new coal mine in 30 years, with UCL’s Professor Paul Elkins quoted saying -
"Approving it also trashes the U.K.'s reputation as a global leader on climate action and opens it up to well-justified charges of hypocrisy – telling other countries to ditch coal while not doing so itself" (in Farmbrough, 2022)
And these claims aren’t unfounded, with the inequalities that characterise climate change becoming more apparent. A study found that in the UK, the richest 1% are responsible for the same amount of carbon emissions in one year that the poorest 10% are in a quarter of a century (Harvey, 2022b).
But it’s not all bad news - COP27 saw the agreement of a ‘loss and damage’ fund, through which “rich countries will be expected to pay into the fund and it will pay out to the poorest countries which are suffering most” (Carrington, 2022). Joe Biden passed a historic climate bill to channel over $300 billion into renewables and energy efficient technologies, Rishi Sunak passed a windfall tax on fossil fuel firms, and gas consumption in Europe is expected to decline for years to come in response to the Ukraine war (ibid.; BBC News, 2022; Buli, 2022). Despite failing to attract world leaders, COP15, the biodiversity summit, saw a deal to protect 30% of nature by 2030, while protecting indigenous rights more strongly (Weston and Greenfield, 2020).
Soup throwing and roadblocking characterised public environmental protests, which were also front and centre of headlines. Groups like Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion were seemingly more active than ever, in the face of increasing distrust, frustration and impatience with the UK government’s environmental response.
The year ahead
The MET office has predicted that 2023 will be one of the hottest years on record, with the global temperature forecast to be between 1.08 degrees and 1.32 degrees above the long-term average (Madge, 2022). This is likely to bring more climate extremes, disasters and unprecedented risks to human health, economic stability and biodiversity. The current La Niña will go into its third year, with expectations of drought in eastern Africa, potentially causing food and water scarcity to deepen (Brahic, 2022).
The political and diplomatic response to climate change will, therefore, be more important than ever. Climate litigation is expected to find its feet, particularly in the US, and the UN will vote on a resolution as to whether legal avenues for climate justice should be established on the international level (Farand, 2022). This may mean nation-states will have obligations to protect both current and future generations from the adverse effects of climate change (Kaminski, 2023).
The agreements made in COP27 will likely be under intense scrutiny. Will the loss and damage fund be set up in time for COP28 in November? How far will countries go in meeting their annual $100 billion targets? Will the phasing out of fossil fuels continue to go ahead, or will this be stonewalled once again? COP28 will be held in the United Arab Emirates, with an expectation they will argue for carbon sequestration technologies, in other words, capturing carbon from the air and storing it underground (Lo, 2023). Debates will almost certainly arise around which solutions should be implemented, where and who pays. It’s expected that the role of oil companies will come under scrutiny, particularly surrounding whether they can, or should, be a part of the solution (Brahic, 2022).
Ultimately, 2023 may be the year that makes or breaks climate diplomacy. It feels increasingly like the Earth is being pushed towards a breaking point, with climate disasters symbolising the cry for help from both society and nature. In 2023, it is hoped that climate leaders will step up to take concrete action, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increase the accessibility of climate education worldwide (Farooq, 2023). This, however, is in the face of a difficult economic situation and continuing international conflict. Time will tell whether climate politics will block or reinvigorate global efforts to combat climate change.
Kaminski, I. (2023) ‘Why 2023 will be a watershed year for climate litigation’, The Guardian, 4 January [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/04/why-2023-will-be-a-watershed-year-for-climate-litigation (Accessed 12 January 2023).
Farand, C. (2022) ‘Vanuatu publishes draft resolution seeking climate justice at UN court’, Climate Change News, 30 November [online] Available at: https://www.climatechangenews.com/2022/11/30/vanuatu-publishes-draft-resolution-seeking-climate-justice-at-un-court/
Lo, J. (2023) ‘Thirteen critical questions for international climate action in 2023’, Climate Change News, 6 January [online] Available at: https://www.climatechangenews.com/2023/01/06/thirteen-critical-questions-for-international-climate-action-in-2023/
Harvey, F. (2022b) ‘Enormous emissions gap between top 1% and poorest, study highlights’, The Guardian, 1 November [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/01/polluting-elite-enormous-carbon-dioxide-emissions-gap-between-poorest-autonomy-study
Buli, N. (2022) ‘Ukraine war to cut Europe's gas consumption for decades, consultancy says’, Reuters, 12 October [online] Available at: https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/ukraine-war-cut-europes-gas-consumption-decades-consultancy-says-2022-10-12/
Harvey, F. (2022a) ‘World still ‘on brink of climate catastrophe’ after Cop27 deal’, The Guardian, 20 November [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/20/world-still-on-brink-of-climate-catastrophe-after-cop27-deal
Phys Org (2022) ‘Europe’s record 2022 wildfires sent carbon emissions soaring: monitors’, Phys Org, 13 December [online] Available at: https://phys.org/news/2022-12-europe-wildfires-carbon-emissions-soaring.html
Henley, J. (2022) ‘Wildfires in Europe burn area equivalent to one-fifth of Belgium’, The Guardian, 15 August [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/aug/15/wildfires-europe-burn-area-equivalent-one-fifth-belgium
Cuff, M. (2023) ‘Winter storms in US set to continue while Europe sees record warmth’, New Scientist, 3 January [online] Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2353293-winter-storms-in-us-set-to-continue-while-europe-sees-record-warmth/
Madge, G. (2022) ‘2023 set to be tenth consecutive year at 1°C or above’, Met Office, 20 December [online] Available at: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/press-office/news/weather-and-climate/2022/2023-global-temperature-forecast#:~:text=The%20Met%20Office%20annual%20global,Earth's%20hottest%20years%20on%20record.
Liang, A. (2023) ‘Pakistan economic crisis forces malls and markets to close early’, BBC News, 4 January [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64159460
BBC News (2022) ‘What is the windfall tax on oil and gas companies’, BBC News, 30 December [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-60295177
Weston, P. and Greenfield, P. (2022) ‘‘Crucial’ Cop15 deal includes target to protect 30% of nature on Earth by 2030’, The Guardian, 19 December [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/dec/19/cop15-deal-includes-target-to-protect-30-of-nature-on-earth-by-2030-aoe#:~:text=age%20of%20extinction-,'Crucial'%20Cop15%20deal%20includes%20target%20to%20protect%2030%25%20of,nature%20on%20Earth%20by%202030&text=Ministers%20and%20environmental%20groups%20have,places%20emphasis%20on%20Indigenous%20rights.
Brahic, C. (2022) ‘Climate diplomacy will continue to be a challenge in 2023’, The Economist, 18 November [online] Available at: https://www.economist.com/the-world-ahead/2022/11/18/climate-diplomacy-will-continue-to-be-a-challenge
Farooq, I. (2023) ‘Climate: What do young campaigners want to see in 2023’, BBC News, 10 January [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-64192216
Farmbrough, H. (2022) ‘U.K. Government Approves First Coal Mine In 30 Years In Cumbria’, Forbes, 9 December [online] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/heatherfarmbrough/2022/12/09/uk-government-approves-first-coal-mine-in-30-years-in-cumbria/?sh=5c12ab6d258b
Abnett, K. (2022) “Rich countries failed to meet their climate funding goal”, Reuters, 29 July [online] Available at: https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/rich-countries-failed-meet-their-climate-funding-goal-2022-07-29/
Habeshian, S. (2022) ‘Hurricane Ian is Florida’s deadliest in nearly a century’, Axios, 7 October [online] Available at: https://www.axios.com/2022/10/07/hurricane-ian-deadliest-florida
McGrath, M. (2023) ‘Climate change: Europe and polar regions bear brunt of warming in 2022’, BBC News, 10 January [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-64213575
BBC News (2023) ‘Pakistan floods: International donors pledge over $9bn’, BBC News, 10 January [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64218703
Carrington, D. (2022) ‘Environmental review of 2022: another mile on the ‘highway to climate hell’’, The Guardian, 30 December [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/dec/30/environmental-review-of-2022-another-mile-on-the-highway-to-climate-hell
Copernicus (2023) ‘Copernicus: 2022 was a year of climate extremes, with record high temperatures and rising concentrations of greenhouse gases’, Copernicus, 9 January [online] Available at: https://climate.copernicus.eu/copernicus-2022-was-year-climate-extremes-record-high-temperatures-and-rising-concentrations#:~:text=This%20makes%202022%20the%20eighth,least%20the%20third%20warmest%20globally.