A bombshell report in Nature Geoscience has revealed that, despite it being thought to be near-impossible, the world may actually be able to meet not just the 2°C (3.6°F) warming limit set by the Paris agreement, but it could even keep warming below the more ambitious 1.5°C (2.7°F) requested by poorer and low-lying nations.
Prior to this report, thanks to the slower-than-required pace of climate change mitigation, it was generally thought that the upper limit would be breached, perhaps as soon as 2050. One climate economist, Professor Michael Grubb at University College London, said back in 2015 that the speed of the greenhouse gas (GHG) cuts required to meet the 1.5°C target were “incompatible with democracy”.
However, thanks to some new, rigorous, cutting-edge science, he’s come around: Grubb is actually now one of the co-authors of this study.
After looking at each nation’s contribution plans to the Paris accords, the amount of carbon dioxide required to alter the global temperature, and how models calculate this, the team found that the lower limit is perfectly within reach.
As it turns out, climate models used by other studies slightly underestimate the amount of carbon dioxide emissions we have left before the temperature increase is nudged up to 1.5°C. Using the most up-to-date data on our greenhouse gas emissions, the team found that – as of 2015 – there's 20 years’ worth of extra emissions legroom leftover, based on current emission rates.
Putting it another way, we have a somewhat larger global carbon budget that we previously thought, with respect to the goals of the Paris agreement. This means that the planet has a bit more time to deal with the climate crisis.
Plenty of media outlets have erroneously (intentionally or otherwise) taken this paper as evidence that climatologists have little idea how to calculate future warming scenarios, and that global warming is an overblown phenomenon. In actual fact, this study shows that science is doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing – correcting itself, ever so slightly, at the bleeding edge.
In this case, the correction came in the form of our carbon budget, with respect to a warming of 1.5°C. That's all. Global warming has not been overestimated, as some have claimed.
The world is still warming remarkably quickly, and we’re already seeing the dire consequences of this. However, we have potentially more room to move when it comes to dealing with it, and we may be able to save some of those low-income nations that would otherwise be doomed.
Ultimately, it shows that the Paris agreement isn’t a lofty political ideal, but a practical framework for saving the planet. Make no mistake – this is good news.