Addressing climate change now centers on the essential question: how much is too much?
How much more fossil fuels can we burn? How much longer can we postpone transforming our energy, transportation and agricultural systems?
Pessimists say it’s too late. Obfuscators say there’s no way to tell—or that any carbon pollution can somehow get naturally absorbed. Realists, armed with a new study, say there’s hope.
An Oxford University analysis published in a fall edition of Nature Geoscience finds that, while significant emission reductions will be required to limit the increase in global average temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, such ambitions are achievable still.
Climate models work by replicating climate patterns dating back to 1870 and assessing what might happen in the century to come. Since 1870, models found global average temperatures, with 2 trillion tons of carbon added to the atmosphere, have increased by 0.9°C. Previous models anticipated an increase of 1.2°C.
In other words, we have added more carbon to the atmosphere than previously thought, and we have experienced less warming than the models anticipated.
Richard Millar, lead author of the study, said maintaining steady emissions rates over the next 20 years would likely result in achieving the international targets set in the Paris Climate Accord.
On-going demand for fossil fuel extraction is expected to result in growing emission rates, however. This means we all still need to do our part to transform existing energy, transportation and food systems. There’s still time for us all to do our part.