New Study: Global Warming Limit Can Still Be Achieved
By Tim Radford
Scientists in the UK have good news for the 195 nations that pledged to limit global warming to well below 2°C: it can be done. The ideal limit of no more than 1.5°C above the average temperatures for most of human history is possible.
All it requires is an immediate reduction in the combustion of fossil fuels—a reduction that will continue for the next 40 years, until the world is driven only by renewable energy.
This optimistic assessment is possible because of new information, coupled with another look at the challenge ahead, according to scientists from Exeter, London, Leeds and Oxford, backed up by colleagues from Norway, Austria, Switzerland, Canada and New Zealand.
They reported in Nature Geoscience journal that they have a new estimate for the mass of fossil fuels it would be safe to burn, consistent with achieving the target agreed at the Paris climate conference in 2015.
Industry has a bit more room to maneuver as it adjusts, and researchers now have a more up-to-date estimate of how much extra carbon dioxide may be released into the atmosphere before the global thermometer starts to reach potentially dangerous temperatures.
"Limiting total CO2 emissions from the start of 2015 to beneath 240 billion tonnes of carbon—880 billion tonnes of CO2–or about 20 years of current emissions would likely achieve the Paris goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels," said study leader Richard Millar, a climate system scientist at the University of Oxford.
And his colleague, Pierre Friedlingstein, the University of Exeter's chair in mathematical modelling of climate systems, who advises the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on carbon budgets, said, "Previous estimates of the remaining 1.5°C carbon budget based on the IPCC Fifth Assessment were around four times lower, so this is very good news for the achievability of the Paris targets."
The problem can be put simply—even if the solution remains a global headache. For 200 years, humans have been exploiting coal, oil and natural gas on a massive scale, destroying forests and converting wilderness to crops and pasture.
To burn fossil fuel is to release a greenhouse gas into the atmosphere—and the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer the world. What had once been a stable ratio of around 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide has crept up to around 400 ppm in 2016, and global average temperatures are about 0.9°C higher than the pre-industrial average.
The big question is how much more carbon dioxide can the factories, power stations and car exhausts of the world emit before the temperature goes up another 0.6°C, but no higher?
Almost as soon as the world's nations settled on the Paris target, there were doubts about whether the temperature limit is achievable, and these doubts have been expressed by distinguished scientists at the forefront of climate change research.
The latest study indicates that it can be done. But parallel research published in Nature Geoscience suggests there is no time to lose.
Why #Environmentalists Can’t Afford to Wait Until #2018 https://t.co/VtiZdqMmYq @SierraClub @YEARSofLIVING @StandingRockST— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1505132994.0
Norwegian scientists reported that the global greenhouse effect caused by human increases in carbon dioxide concentrations is now halfway to doubling. That is not the same as twice the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: what is being measured here is the extra heat that double the carbon dioxide will guarantee.
'Dangerous' global warming
"The doubling of CO2 now has an iconic role in climate research," the Norwegian report said. "In terms of radiative forcing, we are still likely to have come more than halfway to a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere."
And a third study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, spells out the importance of the Paris agreement when it comes to global risk.
Researchers in Texas and California said the "well below 2°C target" set in Paris commits the world to "dangerous" global warming, and a rise of 3°C on average for the whole globe would rate as "catastrophic."
But a rise of 5°C would, the researchers say, deliver risks that are "unknown, implying beyond catastrophic." And if emissions are not checked, the world will reach the dangerous level in three decades.
So the overall message is that a 1.5°C limit is possible, but the world had better start working towards that goal now.
"The sooner global emissions start to fall, the lower the risk not only of major climate disruption, but also of economic disruption that could otherwise arise from the need for subsequent reductions at historically unprecedented rates, should near-term action remain inadequate," said another of the report's authors, Michael Grubb, professor of international energy and climate change policy at University College London's Institute of Sustainable Resources.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
By Alexandra Villarreal
As West coast wildfires color the skies dystopian red and orange and an aggressive hurricane season batters the U.S. Gulf coast, college students are demanding their schools take bold action to address the climate crisis.
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By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
Between 2000 and 2013, Earth lost an area of undisturbed ecosystems roughly the size of Mexico.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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