Keeping a rise in global temperatures under 1.5 °C still remains possible with ambitious and immediate emission reductions.
When it comes to anthropogenic climate change, it often sounds like it’s all doom and gloom. Time is running out and unless we act fast the effects of climate change will devastate life as we know it within a matter of decades.
We’ll have to try and keep a rise in global temperatures under 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels or all hell may break loose. More and more experts think we have already missed the boat on that because of the vast amounts of greenhouse gasses that keep being released into the atmosphere. Because of the vast amounts of CO2 already in the atmosphere, temperature rises, they argue, are bound to be so high that much of life on the planet will be facing a dire future.
Not necessarily so, counters an international team of climate scientists. In a new study they examined several climate scenarios, including the best-case scenario whereby all fossil fuel burning was instantly ceased right now. In that case, they say, there is a 64% chance that we could keep the global temperature rise under 1.5°C.
Needless to say, that scenario is purely hypothetical. Even though the use of fossil fuels is being phased out globally, modern economies and lifestyles still rely predominantly on them. “Owing to socioeconomic constraints, this situation is unlikely,” the researchers observe.
Many climate experts would want to see a dramatic reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, which is the target the United Nations has itself pinpointed. “Delaying mitigation until 2030 considerably reduces the likelihood that 1.5°C would be attainable even if the rate of fossil fuel retirement was accelerated,” the study’s authors note.
Still, there’s a silver lining, they add. “Although the challenges laid out by the Paris Agreement are daunting, we indicate 1.5 °C remains possible and is attainable with ambitious and immediate emission reduction across all sectors,” they argue.
“It’s good news from a geophysical point of view,” Christopher Smith, the lead author of the paper from the University of Leeds, says. “Our research found that the current amount of fossil fuel infrastructure in the global economy does not yet commit us to exceeding the 1.5°C temperature rise limit put forward by the Paris Agreement. We are still within the margin of achieving the scenario the model put forward.”
In other words, drastic cuts in greenhouse gases will have to be made through full-scale transition to low-carbon energy sources, the adoption of energy-saving measures and changes in first-world lifestyles.
“Whether it’s drilling a new gas well, keeping an old coal power station open, or even buying a diesel car, the choices we make today will largely determine the climate pathways of tomorrow,” stresses Dave Reay, a carbon management researcher at the University of Edinburgh, who wasn’t involved with the study. “The message of this new study is loud and clear: act now or see the last chance for a safer climate future ebb away.”