We Only Have A 5 Percent Chance Of Sticking To Paris Climate Goals, Says New Study

We only get one shot at this folks. Avivi Aharon/Shutterstock

A new study estimates that there’s a 95 percent chance the world will not meet the Paris climate agreement goals of limiting global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100.

The 2°C increase from pre-Industrial levels agreed in Paris is considered the tipping point where the consequences of climate change will be cataclysmic. And we have a 5 percent chance of achieving it apparently. However, despite each new climate change study seeming more dire than the last, scientists are refusing to give up hope.

Analyzing 50 years of past data gathered from countries around the world, as well as the UN and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the researchers modeled their own statistically based projections, focusing primarily on total world population, economic trends, and carbon emissions.

Their results, published in the Nature Climate Change, concluded that the projected warming by the end of the century is a median 3.2°C (5.8°F), with a 90 percent chance that the global temperature will increase by 2.0-4.9°C (3.6-8.8°F). They found only a 5 percent chance that the increase will be less than 2°C by 2100.

“Our analysis shows that the goal of 2 degrees is very much a best-case scenario,” said lead author Adrian Raftery of the University of Washington in a statement. “It is achievable, but only with major, sustained effort on all fronts over the next 80 years.”

The authors point out in the paper that their model is not a “business as usual” scenario, but instead based on data that already shows the effects of mitigating climate change in policy, so it is the most inclusive model to date.

Surprisingly, the results showed that population growth had very little impact on rising temperatures. This is mainly because most of the population increase will occur in Africa, where fossil fuels aren’t used as much.

What will have more impact is what is known as "carbon intensity" – the amount of carbon emissions produced for each dollar of economic activity. As countries have acted to reduce carbon emissions, this has gone down, but whether this continues, and at a faster, more urgent rate, will be the biggest influence on whether we can curb future disaster.

“Overall, the goals expressed in the Paris Agreement are ambitious but realistic,” Raftery said. “The bad news is they are unlikely to be enough to achieve the target of keeping warming at or below 1.5 degrees.”

If you’re thinking, well we might as well give up now, don't be disheartened. Even though the authors admit it will be hard, they do suggest the goal of less than 2°C is doable in the next 80 years, we just need to do it faster.

As co-author Dargan Frierson said: “Our results show that an abrupt change of course is needed to achieve these goals.” 

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