GLASGOW, Scotland | While world leaders and negotiators hail the Glasgow climate accord as a sensible compromise that maintains a vital temperature limit, many scientists ask what planet these leaders are looking at.
When they crunch the figures, they discover a much different and warmer Earth.
“I think we have a good plan to keep the 1.5-degree goal within our capabilities,” UN climate director Patricia Espinosa told The Associated Press, referring to the overarching global aim of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.
The conference’s host, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, concurred, calling the agreement a “clear road map limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.”
Many scientists, on the other hand, are significantly more sceptical. They recommend to forget about 1.5 degrees. Earth is still on track to warm by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).
In an email to The Associated Press on Sunday, Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheim said, “The 1.5C objective was already on life support before Glasgow, and now it’s about time to proclaim it dead.”
The AP spoke with 13 scientists about the Glasgow deal, and a handful of them said they see just enough progress to keep the 1.5-degree Celsius target alive — and with it, some hope. But only just.
Many agreements came out of Glasgow, according to the optimists, including a US-China pact to work harder together to cut emissions this decade, as well as separate multi-nation accords on methane emissions and coal-fired power. A market-based method would kick-start trading credits that reduce carbon in the air after six years of failure.
The 1.5-degree objective is the more rigorous of two goals set forth in the historic Paris climate agreement of 2015. Because a 2018 scientific assessment indicated considerably harsher effects on the world after 1.5 degrees, UN authorities and scientists consider it critical.
Since pre-industrial times, the planet has warmed by 1.1 degrees (2 degrees Fahrenheit), so this is only a few tenths of a degree more. According to the United Nations, countries must cut their emissions in half by 2030 to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees. Since 2010, emissions have increased by around 14 percent, rather than decreased, according to Espinosa.
The Glasgow meeting “got work done, but did not make enough progress,” according to German scholar Hans-Otto Portner.
“The temperature will rise by considerably more than 2 degrees Celsius. This development endangers nature, human lives, livelihoods, habitats, and even wealth,” said Portner, who co-chairs one of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientific reports.
According to scientists who conduct computer models, instead of the huge modifications in bending the temperature curve that the United Nations had hoped for from Glasgow, they only got little tweaks.
In an email, Breakthrough Institute climate scientist and director Zeke Hausfather said, “Heading out of Glasgow we have shaved maybe 0.1C off the warming… for a best-estimate of 2.3C warming.” For Carbon Brief, Hausfather collaborated on climate modelling with partners.
After the Glasgow agreement was announced, MIT researcher Jon Sterman and his Climate Interactive team calculated some preliminary calculations, which did not match leaders’ confidence.
“There is no feasible way to restrict warming to 1.5 or even 2 (degrees) if coal, oil, and gas are not phased out as quickly as possible,” he said.
India received a last-minute tweak to the accord on Saturday: instead of “phasing out,” coal and fossil fuel subsidies will be “phased down.” Several scientists stated that, regardless of the terms of the agreement, coal must be phased out, not only reduced, in order to reduce future warming.
“‘Lessening’ will accomplish less to slow the detrimental impacts of climate change than ‘eliminating,'” according to Waleed Abdalati, a former NASA chief scientist who now directs environmental research at the University of Colorado.
Climate Action Tracker, which also evaluates commitments to see how much warming they will cause, estimated that emission-cut pledges would result in 2.4 degrees of warming before the accord was completed.
The 1.5 figure is “on a knife’s edge,” according to Australian tracking scientist Bill Hare.
According to Hare, one language in the deal — which requires countries with emission-cutting objectives that aren’t in line with 1.5- or 2-degree limitations to submit new, stronger goals by the end of next year — gives promise.
But, according to US climate envoy John Kerry, that paragraph probably doesn’t apply to the US, which is the world’s second-biggest coal emitter and the greatest historically, because the US aim is so ambitious.
The agreement delivered “watered down promise…. We received an insufficient strategy for slower action,” according to Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist and dean of the University of Michigan’s environment school.
In an email, Overpeck said, “I went into the (conference) thinking 1.5C was still alive, and it looks the world’s leaders just didn’t have the backbone for that.”
According to Donald Wuebbles, a climate scientist at the University of Illinois and one of the major writers of the US national climate assessment, some progress has been made. “However, the chances of reaching to 1.5 degrees Celsius are extremely slim, nearly non-existent.” It’s unlikely that we’ll even get to 2 degrees.”
However, other scientists were optimistic.
In an email, Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said, “For the first time, I can genuinely see a feasible road ahead to limiting warming to 1.5C.” “However, it will necessitate both (a) countries delivering on their current obligations and (b) ratcheting up their current commitments.”
Johan Rockström of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact and Research highlighted the “optimistic” scenario he and a few others see if all of the countries that have promised net-zero emissions by mid-century actually achieve the goal — something most haven’t started taking concrete steps toward.
In that case, Rockström believes that warming could be confined to 1.8 or 1.9 degrees Celsius.
“That is a huge step forward, but it is far from enough,” he said.
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