2019 Climate Change Summary

If we had to sum up 2019 in one word, it would be ‘hot’. July was the hottest month on Earth since measurements began [1] and temperature records were broken in many countries [3]. Ice sheets are melting fast [3]; the Arctic ice sheet is now 33% smaller than it was in the 1980s [5].

Forest-fires raged across the world, from South America to Australia, and even in the Arctic [3]. The causes varied, but there is no doubt that climate change played a major role [8,9,10]. There were more fires in the Brazilian Amazon than there have been since 2010 [6] largely because the government encouraged deforestation for farming [7,8]. One serious consequence of fires is air pollution, which adds to that caused by burning fossil fuels and is bad for human health [11,12,13]; outdoor air pollution causes about 4.2 million deaths each year [4].

But there is hope! In 2019, millions of people across 150 countries protested to demand climate justice [14,15]. Many great changes in history have their origins in peaceful demonstration [16,17,18], so climate protests may well drive the changes we need to combat global warming [19,20].

Tree planting gained a lot of attention in 2019 [21,27,32,36]. This is important because trees increase rainfall and reduce soil erosion, landslides and flooding [25,37]. Whilst they do remove CO2 from the air, tree planting is not an alternative to keeping fossil fuels in the ground [23]. New forests must contain multiple species, and must not replace other valuable habitats such as meadows and peatland [22,24].

What’s needed in 2020? The priority is to radically cut emissions [26], through use of low-carbon energy, reduced deforestation, reduced food waste and many other changes [29,30,34,35]. We need to keep pressuring governments to act [31], consume less [28], shift towards plant-based diets [2,34], and use our careers to tackle the climate crisis [31,33].


[1] https://www.noaa.gov/news/july-2019-was-hottest-month-on-record-for-planet
[2] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/4/2019/11/05_Chapter-2.pdf See: Consequences for the climate system of land-based adaptation and mitigation options, including carbon dioxide removal (negative emissions), paragraph 2
[3] https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/2019-concludes-decade-of-exceptional-global-heat-and-high-impact-weather See: Heatwaves; Decline of sea ice and Greenland ice sheet; Paragraph 8
[4] https://www.who.int/airpollution/ambient/en/
[5] https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/arctic-sea-ice/ See: graph. 1980-89 average September ice extent = (7.67+7.14+7.39+6.81+6.70+7.41+7.28+7.37+7.01)/10 = 6.478 million km^2. (6.478-4.32)/6.478*100 = 33.31% = percentage decrease in Arctic September ice area in 2019 compared to 1980-89 average
[6] https://news.mongabay.com/2019/08/how-many-fires-are-burning-in-the-amazon/ See: paragraph starting ‘The 41,858 fires recorded so far this year…’ Originally from Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais, Brasil
[7] https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6456/853?hwshib2=authn%3A1577117292%3A20191222%253A20c1b09d-9459-4b0a-9a80-36a9c9164d47%3A0%3A0%3A0%3ADAIin0ym37CLOXgBkHjrtg%3D%3D See: Paragraphs 1-5
[8] https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/08/little-bit-everything-burning-nasa-scientist-dissects-amazon-fires See: Q: What role does climate play? And Q: But nothing out of the ordinary is happening at this point? And Q: How can you tell fire activity is linked to deforestation? And: What’s your reading of the situation…?
[9] https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GL080959 See: abstract and Introduction
[10] https://public.wmo.int/en/media/news/unprecedented-wildfires-arctic See: E.g. paragraph 1
[11] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269749109000189 See: E.g. abstract
[12] https://www.pnas.org/content/116/15/7192.short See: E.g. abstract
[13] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2542519618302614 See: Introduction and Findings (12.5% =1/8)
[14] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03838-0 See: Heated debate
[15] https://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/oekom/gaia/2019/00000028/00000002/art00004?crawler=true&mimetype=application/pdf See: The statement and the demands of Fridays for Future
[16] https://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/files/IS3301_pp007-044_Stephan_Chenoweth.pdf See: Conclusions and Implications and Civil Rights Protest and Federal Attention
[17] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/socf.12175 See: Discussion and Conclusion
[18] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-modern-african-studies/article/role-of-nonviolent-action-in-the-downfall-of-apartheid/2A1AC6C4C02CB1A44AFA87CDBBC757D1 See: Abstract
[19] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/climate-change-environment-emergency-commons-motion-mps-vote-latest-a8895456.html See: video clip of UK MPs declaring a climate emergency. An example of policy change following climate protests
[20] https://theconversation.com/uk-becomes-first-country-to-declare-a-climate-emergency-116428 See: Paragraph 2
[21] https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=2010-11-23%202019-12-23&q=trees See: graph. Shows increase in search interest for ‘trees’ in the Google search engine in 2019 compared to the past decade
[22] https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0169534719302526?token=98FF9AE7A4DCA9E58D2412950B4D37C1C867D91563673D7099FCFD0331ED2DBD7AB8CD048AD9055DD491221D11821347 See: E.g. last paragraph
[23] https://science.sciencemag.org/content/366/6463/eaay7976.full See: Last paragraph
[24] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-019-0405-0 See: The problem with monocultures and What about the rest?
[25] https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:4f15c07d-6bc9-4742-a808-d9ca960505c8/download_file?file_format=pdf&safe_filename=Seddon%2Bet%2Bal%2BREVISION_080919.pdf&type_of_work=Journal+article See: Nature-based Solutions for climate change adaptation
[26] https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/un-climate-summit-2019.shtml See: Paragraph 1
[27] Ecosia (a search engine that uses advertisement revenue to plant trees among other activities to protect the environment) total income in Nov 2019 was almost 2x that in Jan 2019. November: https://blog.ecosia.org/content/images/2019/12/financialreports_nov_en.png; January: https://blog.ecosia.org/content/images/2019/04/Financial-Report-January-2019-ecosia-.jpg
[28] https://iges.or.jp/en/publication_documents/pub/technicalreport/en/6719/15_Degree_Lifestyles_MainReport.pdf See: Executive summary
[29] https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/advance-article/doi/10.1093/biosci/biz088/5610806?fbclid=IwAR3hJFftuZK-aydIoDsi_Pngrj_Ox29D8kCncmIRfRicizLklUq8KHPt3XE See: Energy
[30] https://www.drawdown.org/solutions See: Solutions by rank, wind turbines, reduced food waste, plant-rich diets and tropical forests are in the top 5 cheapest methods of CO2 removal. Click on e.g. ‘Tropical Forests’ for more details
[31] https://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/oekom/gaia/2019/00000028/00000002/art00004?crawler=true&mimetype=application/pdf See: E.g. last paragraph
[32] https://www.carbonbrief.org/election-2019-what-the-manifestos-say-on-energy-and-climate-change Each political party in the UK included tree planting as part of its manifesto for the December 2019 election
[33] https://climate.careers/ See: Impact areas
[34] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/4/2019/12/02_Summary-for-Policymakers_SPM.pdf See: Panel A, dietary change, reduced post-harvest losses, reduced consumer/retailer food waste, and reduced deforestation and forest degradation are dark blue indicating more than 3 Gt CO2-eq/yr of mitigation potential, and labelled ‘H’ for high confidence
[35] https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/10/01/1821674116.short See: E.g. Abstract
[36] https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/08/forests-ipcc-special-report-land-use-7-things-know See: E.g. Tree-planting that results in land-use change must be approached more selectively. The IPCC report on Climate Change and land highlighted the importance of reducing deforestation and the need for carefully planned afforestation
[37] https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/08/trees-amazon-make-their-own-rain

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