It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the effects of the climate crisis, especially when governments are companies aren’t doing nearly enough to tackle the problem. But there’s no need to despair yet. According to a new study, it’s still possible to avoid the most apocalyptic scenarios if the world continues to lower its emissions. However, there is no time to waste.
Back in 2015, virtually every country adopted the Paris Agreement on climate change, the first-ever universal climate deal. Countries all agreed to play their individual part to keep the increase in global average temperature to below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels — and aiming for 1.5º as a bonus.
It’s not an easy task. For this to happen, it would mean will have to peak soon, and the global economy would need to be changed quickly. Unexplored fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground, renewable energy will have to become the norm, our dietary habits will have to change, it’s a big task. But it’s possible.
Because countries have different geographies and economies, they have different roles to play in this challenge. Per the Paris Agreement, countries and companies have submitted individual action plans to tackle their greenhouse gas emissions — countries with big fossil fuel industries have to scale said industries down, while countries with rich forests, for instance, have to protect those forests. The goal is to have every country work on whatever would be most efficient for their own context.
The problem is that the agreement gives flexibility on how the plans are done, each one submitting what they feel is fair. This has led to slow progress of climate action. Emissions are still on the rise on a global level.
Cautiously good news
In a new study, researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder dismissed the possibility of the global average temperature reaching 4ºC to 5ºC by the end of the century, as previously suggested by previous studies. Instead, updated climate scenarios project between 2ºC and 3ºC of warming by 2100, they argued.
“This is cautiously optimistic good news with respect to where the world is today, compared to where we thought we might be,” lead author Roger Pielke Jr., professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in a press statement. “The two-degree target from Paris remains within reach.”
The main tool for climate researchers to explore and plan for possible futures are scenarios – forecasts on how the future might evolved based on a set of factors such as climate policies and greenhouse gas emissions levels. The most used scenarios were developed by the IPCC, a leading group of climate researchers from around the world.
For the study, the researchers looked at over 1,300 climate scenarios and compared them to the projected 2005-2050 emissions from the fossil fuel sector, as well as with projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA) to 2050. Between 100 and 500 scenarios matched with the compared data, suggesting global warming of 2ºC to 3ºC.
The researchers argued that worst-case case climate scenarios are much less plausible as they were developed more than a decade ago. Plus, a lot has happened since then that wasn’t expected. Renewable energy is now much cheaper than before, for example, leading to more countries expanding their use and reducing their emissions.
These changes are captured in the projections by the IEA, which provides updates every year, but not by the outdated climate scenarios, which continued to be used heavily by scientists. The commonly used worst-case scenario, known as RCP8.5, projects an increase of 4ºC to 5ºC by 2100, which researchers are now dismissing.
“There’s a need for these scenarios to be updated more frequently. Researchers may be using a 2005 scenario, but we need a 2022 perspective,” said Pielke Jr. “You’re going to have better policies if you have a more accurate understanding of the problem, whatever the political implications are for one side or the other.”
The study was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.