From The Smithsonian Magazine: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/world-was-just-issued-12-year-ultimatum-climate-change-180970489/
Leading climate scientists paint dire portrait of years to come if we maintain carbon-emission status quo
By Katherine J. Wu
October 8, 2018
Today, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report on the forthcoming impacts of climate change. The consensus? It’s not looking good. As Jonathan Watts of The Guardian reports, unless the world makes some drastic and immediate changes to combat the damage already done, hundreds of millions of people may be irreversibly imperiled by drought, flooding, extreme heat and increased poverty in the decades to come.
Three years ago, nations in the Paris agreement issued a pledge reduce greenhouse gases with the stringent goal of limiting the rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, circa the 1850s. But scientists and climate researchers alike were quick to vocalize their doubts about the practicality of this cap. In fact, this goal felt so infeasible that a second was proposed in tandem: aiming to stall at a 2-degree-Celsius (3.6-degree-Fahrenheit) rise, which scientists then considered the threshold for the most severe effects of climate change, reports Coral Davenport for The New York Times.
But evidence in the new report, in which a team of 91 scientists from 40 countries analyzed over 6,000 scientific studies, shows that the future is bleaker than once thought. A 2-degree-Celsius rise in temperatures would spell widespread disaster. Even if the world manages to shave off that extra 0.5 degrees, we’ll still be well on our way to flooded coastlines, intensified droughts and debilitated industries. A seemingly small 1.5-degree-Celsius bump in temperature would also alter weather worldwide, wreaking havoc on agriculture and natural ecosystems, and cost about $54 trillion in damages, according to the report. Because agriculture is the leading source of income in already poor countries, it’s likely that a crippling wave of poverty would ensue.
To make matters worse, the world is already clocking in at 1-degree-Celsius warmer than preindustrial levels, which means we’re more than halfway there. At the rate we’re going, global temperatures are set to hit the mark by 2040—unless a lot changes, and fast.
“Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics,” energy policy expert Jim Skea of Imperial College London, one of the authors of the report, explains to Christopher Joyce at NPR. “But doing so would require unprecedented changes.”
Among them would be a 40 to 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2030—a mere 12 years from now—and a completely carbon-neutral world by 2050. Usage of coal as an electricity source would also have to take a significant plunge to make room for renewable energy, such as wind and solar, Davenport reports.
Climate scientists warn that these goals probably won’t be met without some serious new technological firepower designed to suck greenhouse gases back out of the air. Considering that such techniques could save us even in the event that we overshoot the 1.5-degree-Celsius mark, this route sounds pretty appealing. There’s just one problem: We still have to invent and conventionalize some of these tools before we can actually put them into use, Joyce reports.