Naveena Sadasivam

Global warming can be kept under 2C if humanity acts quickly: study

In the early 2010s, climate scientists were painting a grim picture of the future: If humans didn’t curb carbon dioxide emissions, the world was headed toward 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by the end of the century.

This story was originally published by Grist. You can subscribe to its weekly newsletter here.

A decade later, the planet is on a different path. Scientists now estimate that current emissions trajectories make a 4-degree scenario highly implausible, even as total carbon emissions continue to rise. In fact, a new study estimates that if countries fulfill the climate pledges they made at the United Nations climate change conference known as COP26 last year, warming could be limited to just below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

That’s a more optimistic outlook than those found in the assessments released in the months leading up to COP26. Based on the pledges that countries had made prior to the conference, those studies found that there was a less than 50 percent chance of keeping warming to below 2 degrees C, the goal set by the world’s countries in the 2016 Paris Agreement. Indeed, the commitments prior to COP26 put the world on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7 degrees.

“Our results provide a reason to be optimistic,” the researchers noted in the new study, which was published in the scientific journal Nature this week. “Warming could be limited to 2 C or just below, if the pledges on the table are implemented in full and on time.”

It’s a big “if.” The study assessed 154 pledges submitted by countries at the end of COP26. All 154 commitments included targets to cut emissions by 2030, and 76 included long-term targets stretching out to 2050 and beyond. In modeling temperature increases, the researchers assumed full implementation of countries’ pledges and took into account both short-term and long-term commitments. For countries that only pledged short-term reductions through 2030, the researchers extrapolated a similar trajectory to the end of the century. (The study also noted that a handful of countries — including Pakistan, Turkey, and Vietnam — had set unusually high emissions targets that would be reachable without any new policy initiatives and do little to reduce warming.)

There are already some indications that countries are not on target to meet their pledges. Last year, a United Nations report found that G20 countries, the world’s 20 largest economies, are likely to collectively fall short of their initial climate pledges by 1.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year — roughly 3 percent of their total annual emissions. Of the nine G20 countries that the report examined in detail, all had promised to eventually reach net-zero emissions, but none of them had reduction benchmarks that would actually put them on the path to net-zero.

In an analysis accompanying the new Nature study, climate scientists Zeke Hausfather and Frances Moore said that long-term targets should be “treated with skepticism” if they’re not backed by strong short-term commitments that drastically cut emissions as soon as possible. “It is easy to set ambitious climate targets for 30, 40 or even 50 years in the future — but it is much harder to enact policies today that shift energy systems towards a more sustainable future,” they wrote.

The new study also adds to the growing consensus that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C — the target that became a global rallying cry following the advocacy of vulnerable island nations during the 2015 U.N. climate negotiations — is basically out of reach, even under the most ambitious policy scenario modeled by the researchers.

The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming is the difference between life and death for many of the world’s most vulnerable people — and the difference between survival and extinction for some entire countries subject to sea level rise. The prime minister of Barbados, for instance, called 2 degrees of warming a “death sentence.”

While the 1.5-degree target is increasingly unlikely, it’s not yet entirely impossible, according to the researchers.

“Strong action will leave us with peak warming around 1.5 °C, whereas weak action will see temperature continue to rise to 1.7, 1.8, 2.0 °C or higher,” they noted. “Any delay in reversing the upward trend of emissions, phasing out the unabated use of fossil fuels and developing sustainable, additional and permanent negative-emissions options will put this target out of reach.”

Drillers Illegally Using Diesel Fuel to Frack

A new report charges that several oil and gas companies have been illegally using diesel fuel in their hydraulic fracturing operations, and then doctoring records to hide violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Keep reading... Show less

Fracking Company Offers Pennsylvania Residents $50,000 In Hush Money If They Promise Not to Sue

For the last eight years, Pennsylvania has been riding the natural gas boom, with companies drilling and fracking thousands of wells across the state. And in a little corner of Washington County, some 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh, EQT Corporation has been busy—drilling close to a dozen new wells on one site.

Keep reading... Show less

Fracking Hotbed Is a Regulatory Disaster

Ohio annually processes thousands of tons of radioactive waste from hydraulic-fracturing, sending it through treatment facilities, injecting it into its old and unused gas wells and dumping it in landfills. Historically, the handling and disposal of that waste was barely regulated, with few requirements for how its potential contamination would be gauged, or how and where it could be transported and stored.

Keep reading... Show less

In Fracking Fight, a Worry About How Best to Measure Health Threats

There are more than 6,000 active gas wells in Pennsylvania. And every week, those drilling sites generate scores of complaints from the state's residents, including many about terrible odors and contaminated water.

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES