The current climate crisis appears to be even more urgent and severe than previously understood.
Updates to one of the world’s most authoritative sets of climate models, used in current UN projections, are showing that the planet is warming more quickly than previously estimated.
The World Climate Research Programme uses over 30 climate models, created by a number of independent research institutions across the world, to estimate global temperature rises under a number of different scenarios. Two French laboratories from the project have recently produced two new climate models to update their 2012 simulations ready for the next UN report in 2021, both of which consistently show that global warming by 2100 will be more severe than previously forecasted.
"With our two models, we see that the scenario known as SSP1 2.6 – which normally allows us to stay under 2°C – doesn't quite get us there," Olivier Boucher, head of the Institute Pierre Simon Laplace Climate Modelling Centre in Paris, told AFP news agency.
Average temperatures could rise to between 6 and 7°C above pre-industrial levels, 1°C more than previous estimates, by 2100 if current trends continue. This is one of the worst-case scenarios, but even more optimistic conditions spell bad news. By these new workings, the only way to stay under 2°C would require "very significant" migration efforts from the whole international community. That's a colossal challenge, even before you consider many of the world's biggest greenhouse gas producers still aren’t on track to meet their self-imposed targets.
The new models are based on higher-resolution climate modeling, along with greater supercomputer processing power, that allows researchers to simulate climatic changes with far greater precision than before. The models, known collectively as CMIP6, will be used to underpin the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) next major report in 2021, the Sixth Assessment Report, a global effort to provide the UN with a scientific view on climate change and its potential impacts.
"We have better models now," added Boucher. "They have better resolution, and they represent current climate trends more accurately."
During the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, 195 international member states agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global average temperatures “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.” While it’s now understood that 2°C would cause massive damage to societies and biodiversity, including the complete collapse of the world's coral reefs, it’s generally seen as a realistic target.
However, as these new models show, we might have overestimated how obtainable this goal actually is.