Scientists have issued a warning that the global temperature target is nearly out of reach as individuals are seen walking along the Parana River in Argentina, which is facing severe drought conditions. | Image by Juan Mabromata via AFP/Getty Images
By Chelsea Harvey
present a grim outlook.
The goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees has become a unifying factor for countries participating in the COP28 climate negotiations, despite challenges in reaching this target.
growing confidence among experts
It is possible that the global temperature will exceed that limit in the next ten years. Currently, temperatures have already increased by 1.1 to 1.3 degrees.
The new report to the U.N. states that lowering global temperatures may be achievable by utilizing untested methods to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, it is likely that some exceeding of the target will still occur, as confirmed by scientists.
The looming shadow of overshoot is one of 10 stark warnings the researchers presented Sunday in an annual report on top climate science insights from the past year. Launched in 2017, the series is coordinated by scientific organizations Future Earth and Earth League, alongside the World Climate Research Programme, whose scientific work helps inform national climate commitments worldwide. The report is presented each year to the U.N. during its annual climate conference.
The report for this year contains a diverse range of discoveries.
Mountain glaciers are rapidly decreasing in size. As the Earth’s temperature rises, natural environments such as forests and wetlands may not be able to absorb as much carbon dioxide, resulting in a buildup of pollution in the air. The occurrence of multiple extreme weather disasters simultaneously or in quick succession, known as compound climate events, is becoming increasingly dangerous.
The report also discusses the connections between climate change and the decline of biodiversity, how food systems can help decrease carbon emissions, the challenges faced by communities without means to move away from worsening climate effects, and the significance of fair and inclusive climate adaptation initiatives.
However, its results regarding the 1.5-degree goal are some of its most striking conclusions.
According to the report, countries have not taken sufficient action to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in order to remain on schedule. The planet has a limited capacity for carbon emissions before the 1.5-degree goal becomes unattainable, and recent research suggests that this threshold will be reached in approximately six years if current carbon burning rates continue.
The report warns that although it is technically feasible to prevent overshoot, it would necessitate significant and transformative changes. According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading expert on climate science, global emissions must decrease by 42 percent in the next six years in order to maintain the target. Furthermore, emissions must reach net zero by the middle of the century.
According to one of the authors of the report, Nico Wunderling from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, achieving success would still be uncertain.
Several researchers have privately agreed for some time that the world will likely fall short of that goal, but it has only recently been highlighted in prominent reports.
Wunderling stated that it was already obvious that achieving a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees would be difficult without exceeding it.
Numerous specialists currently suggest that the most ideal outcome would be if countries can minimize overshoot to the greatest extent possible – ideally by capping it at small increments – and promptly reducing temperatures afterwards.
According to scientists, the effects of global warming become more severe as the planet’s temperature increases. Additionally, certain impacts of climate change are irreversible, such as rising sea levels and the extinction of plants and animals.
Wunderling stated that maintaining the goal of 1.5 degrees should continue to be a priority within the Paris Agreement. This focus can encourage countries around the world to minimize any potential overshooting.
“The ideal situation is to minimize both the size and duration of overshoot,” Wunderling explained.
The report emphasizes the urgent need for worldwide initiatives to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These initiatives can range from natural solutions such as reforestation to the development of large-scale carbon-capturing machines, provided that the technology is improved to handle such a task.
The findings of the IPCC indicate that
It is necessary to remove carbon to some extent. to achieving net zero emissions by midcentury. Some sectors of the economy likely can’t get off fossil fuels that quickly, and their greenhouse gas emissions would have to be offset by pulling equal amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air.
In the future, it is hoped by some experts that humans will be able to utilize carbon dioxide removal in order to decrease global temperatures to a more stable level. This would involve extracting more carbon from the atmosphere than is being emitted.
The report cautions that carbon dioxide removal should not replace the urgent reduction of emissions, but rather needs to be rapidly expanded in order to minimize overshooting.
At the same time, it is crucial to reduce the use of fossil fuels in order to control excess consumption.
According to the report, the emissions from current fossil fuel infrastructure would already surpass the Paris targets, making them unattainable. However, despite this finding, governments, companies, and investors are still constructing additional fossil fuel projects.
The report emphasizes the need for governments and financial institutions to proactively prepare for and execute a gradual replacement of fossil fuels while also expediting the adoption of renewable energy. This should be done with the goal of achieving a comprehensive and coordinated shift in the energy sector.
The upcoming climate conference is anticipated to include a significant discussion between nations advocating for a complete elimination of fossil fuels versus nations pushing for a more lenient approach of a “phase-down.”
Some experts suggest that the use of a less assertive language may lead to a slower pace in achieving global emission reduction goals. This could potentially allow countries to continue using fossil fuels and rely on the potential of carbon capture or removal technology to mitigate the effects later. Ploy Achakulwisut, a researcher from the Stockholm Environment Institute Asia and one of the authors of the report, stated in an email that this is a possibility.
A different writer, Gregor Semieniuk, who is an assistant research professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, mentioned COP28 as he stated, “These papers influence stories which subsequently impact investment choices and markets to a certain degree.”
Using less definitive language does not automatically mean that the world will fail to reach the Paris targets, according to his statement. The world could still take action through effective mitigation efforts and financial support to eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels.
“It holds significance for emotions and conversations, which is why I believe that those who take it very seriously are advocating for a ‘phase out’,” he elaborated.
In the past, discussions within the United Nations about climate change have not addressed the use of fossil fuels in their official resolutions. However, in 2021 at the conference in Glasgow, Scotland, countries came to an agreement to gradually reduce the use of coal rather than eliminate it completely.
The previous year’s meeting in Egypt restated that dedication, even though numerous nations urged for a gradual elimination of all non-renewable energy sources. However, the imminent arrival of the 1.5-degree limit requires greater aspirations, as indicated by the recent report.
“According to Achakulwisut, elevating the level of ambition and improving the language used in commitments to phase out fossil fuels would be a crucial initial action in reaching a 1.5C-compatible, swift, well-planned, and fair transition to renewable energy.”
The initial publication of this report appeared in E&E News’ Climatewire.
Gain access to more extensive and detailed reporting.
E&E News covers topics such as the shift to renewable energy, availability of resources, and the impact of climate change.