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Emissions Must Fall By Mid-Century to Meet Paris Temperature Goals, Study Finds

Climate
Emissions Must Fall By Mid-Century to Meet Paris Temperature Goals, Study Finds
Ralf Broskvar

With the exception of the U.S., every country in the world has now expressed an intention to honor the Paris agreement, which means they have all committed to limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the second half of the current century.


Now, two studies published Monday provide insight into how those commitments to avoid dangerous levels of climate change might practically be fulfilled.

One study, published in Nature Climate Change, used models to look specifically at the relationship between the Paris agreement's temperature and emissions goals, and concluded they are not always consistent: Temperature goals would best be achieved by reducing emissions as early and steeply as possible, and reaching zero emissions too late might render them out of reach.

Another study published in Nature Energy offered one small but concrete step in that direction of a speedy emissions reduction. If countries used natural gas instead of coal in existing power stations, they could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 3 percent in less than five years.

The first study, which was led by Katsumasa Tanaka of the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Japan and co-authored by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NACAR) senior scientist Brian O'Neill, ran 10 different models for different temperature and emissions scenarios, NCAR's AtmosNews reported Monday.

The results revealed that we could limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2033 or 2 degrees by reducing emissions by two-thirds by 2060. Emissions could then level off without having to fall all the way to zero.

However, if we overshoot the temperature goals and then try to double back to 1.5 or 2 degrees by the end of the century, it will not be enough to reduce emissions to zero; we will have to devise ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

"What we found is that the two goals do not always go hand in hand," Tanaka told AtmosNews."If we meet temperature targets without first overshooting them, we don't have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero. But if we do reduce emissions to zero, we still might not meet the temperature targets if we don't reduce emissions quickly enough."

The study underscores the importance of timing. It found that temperature will not rise above 2 degrees if we reach zero emissions by 2060, but, if we delay until the end of the century, temperatures will rise above 2 degrees by 2043 and remain above 2 degrees for at least a century.

O'Neil and Tanaka told AtmosNews they thought their research might inform the "global stocktakes" that countries must make every five years under the Paris agreement, reporting their progress and altering their goals.

"Our study and others may help provide countries with a clearer understanding of what work needs to be done to meet the goals laid out in the agreement. We believe that the Paris Agreement needs this level of scientific interpretation," Tanaka said.

The Nature Energy study offered one step countries could take to begin reducing emissions quickly. The study, a joint effort by Imperial College London and the University of Sheffield, found that the UK reduced its total carbon emissions by 6 percent in 2016 by switching the fuel source of power plants from coal to natural gas, which emits less than half of the carbon dioxide that coal does when burned.

According to an Imperial College London press release, the study asked if the UK's success could be replicated in the 30 largest coal-burning countries. It found that, if these countries used existing infrastructure and capabilities to switch from coal to gas, they could reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 0.8 to 1.2 gigatonnes a year.

The study's authors were quick to point out that switching to gas was a stop-gap measure for reducing emissions as quickly as possible while newer, more sustainable technologies are developed.

"Switching from coal to gas is not a long-term solution, but it is an important step to start reducing emissions quickly and at minimal cost. This will give us time to build up the required renewable energy capacity to permanently cut global carbon emissions," co-author and Imperial College London researcher Dr. Iain Staffell said in the release.

And, as O'brien and Tanaka's research indicates, time is of the essence.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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