Environment

Humanity may be nearing the point of no return for climate action, according to new study

Image of Earth captured by NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite
Image of Earth captured by NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite
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Image of Earth captured by NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite
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Image of Earth captured by NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite

An international team of scientists has proposed a series of deadlines by which humanity must take serious action to combat climate change if it is to meet the ambitious goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, and stave off potential disaster. The team behind the study hopes that these points of no return will help inform debate, and spur leaders to take action to mitigate the threat of climate change while there is still time.

In December 2015, 195 countries signed up to a legally-binding global climate deal known as the Paris Agreement. Signatories would work together to limit the increase in global average temperature to a total below 2 °C relative to pre-industrial levels, up to the year 2100. The agreement also set out an even more aspirational target of capping the rise in temperature to 1.5 °C by the end of the century.

The Paris goals were set in an attempt to mitigate the potential dangers posed by climate change. These include rising sea levels due to melting polar ice shields, and an increase in extreme weather events, such as droughts and flooding.

"In our study we show that there are strict deadlines for taking climate action," says Henk Dijkstra, a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and one of the study authors. "We conclude that very little time is left before the Paris targets [to limit global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C] become infeasible even given drastic emission reduction strategies."

The study is a joint effort between scientists from the Netherlands and the UK. The points of no return (PNR) set out in the new paper represent the thresholds after which it would be too late to take strong action on climate change with the hope of avoiding the worst of its effects. The team estimate that the thresholds have a 67 percent probability of being correct at this point.

The researchers used data from numerous climate models to define PNRs for the goals of the Paris Agreement, dependent in part on how quickly humanity can reduce emissions using renewable energy.

One set of PNRs deal with a moderate scenarios in which the share of renewable energy is increasing by 2 percent year on year from the point that serious action is taken. Another set of PNRs were calculated contingent on humanity increasing the share of renewable energy by 5 percent each year.

According to the results of the study, the PNR for using a moderate approach in the hope of keeping warming under 1.5 °C by the end of the century has already passed us by. However, if emissions could be cut by 5 percent each year, the governments of the world would have until 2027 to take extreme action.

For the more realistic target of capping warming to 2 °C by 2100, the moderate 2 percent scenario calls for action to be taken by 2035. If the share of renewable energy were to increase at a pace of 5 percent year on year, the PNR would be pushed back to 2045.

The authors also note that the PNRs could potentially be delayed by 6 to 10 years with the use of negative emissions technology, which remove greenhouse gasses already present in the atmosphere.

"We hope that 'having a deadline' may stimulate the sense of urgency to act for politicians and policy makers," concludes Dijkstra. "Very little time is left to achieve the Paris targets."

A paper detailing the findings has been published in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

Source: European Geosciences Union

35 comments
Manny Frishberg
The technology is or will shortly be on the market to enable these goals to be met, including the potential for economical carbon capture and reuse. The question at hand is one of political will and industrial inertia. Or, simply put, how stupid are we, as a species?
Daishi
I remember when I watched the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" in 2006 which concluded that people must take immediate drastic action or climate change was inevitable. I remember thinking "well then it's inevitable". In the time since the behavior of society is largely unchanged. The human impact on climate will likely be even higher in 10 years than it is today.
PaleDale
I agree, people will not do what is required to reduce emissions. It would be far too inconvenient. Climate change aside the other big issue is population growth and all of the problems that brings like turning all of the good farming land into shopping malls and apartment blocks, try and combat that one! Soylent Green, here we come!
f8lee
@Daishi - you might like to read " An Inconvenient Deception: How Al Gore Distorts Climate Science and Energy Policy" to get another take... Or not, I guess
Anne Ominous
People who have been following the subject know that we've been hearing this same nonsense now for 30 years. I'm doing just fine. Earth has greened in the meantime. There is no significant observed increase in: Droughts Floods Hurricanes Rate of sea level rise (That depends on your time frame; 50 years ago it was rising faster than today.) On the contrary: we have observed significant reductions in hurricane activity, and significantly increased greening of the Earth.
Tom Swift
Hurray! finally I can enjoy guilt free driving my 1973 Chevrolet Caprice at 9.0 MPG. Hey, if wer'e past the tipping point no use changing.
flyerfly
There is sensible conservation and then there is the chicken little style. There is so much money to be made (and lost) in just the regulation of things let alone the actual solving of a problem. I suspect that there are those who are more keen to control people then actually solve any problem (real or unreal). Regulation in industrialized countries (at least the United States) is an economic burden that is causing most people to live in a de-facto state of slavery. One works their entire life and has almost nothing to show for it. But then there are those doing the regulating who retire in style with giant houses that don't even care about what they preach. Case in point...Mr. Al Gore and every other jet setting attendee of the Paris Accords... I say let the sky fall...you either get to be a slave to the regulators or dead...which is better? I like freedom...others may differ but at some point you can't regulate EVERYTHING everyone does.
guzmanchinky
By 2100, and probably MUCH sooner we will have limitless fusion power to suck the CO2 from the air at will.
S Michael
What technology or human plan are we going to use to stop all that carbon pouring from volcanos? What human technology are we going to deploy to stop sun spots (cooling area on sun)? What human approaches are we going to take to stop countries like India, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and other countries with high populations to stop dumping their garbage into the ocean or burning it putting carbon in the air? The green weenies leftist would have you believe its all the U.S. fault, we are the problem when the facts are we have done more than any other large population country to try and cut down on our carbon footprint. The countries I mentioned will do nothing. Lets hope, if the green weenies are correct, it floods their country first and let the chips fall where they may.
Joshua Tulberg
The real solution is to stop procreating, but its hard enough just to convince someone to switch to LED, purchase an EV, or stop eating Beef. I agree with Daishi: We are screwed.
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