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IPCC: Earth will reach temperature rise of about 1.5C in around a decade

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Of all the troubling news in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, one warning will surely generate the most headlines: under all scenarios examined, Earth is likely to reach the crucial 1.50C warming limit in the early 2030s.

As the report makes clear, global warming of 1.50C, and then 20C, will be exceeded this century unless we make deep cuts to CO² and other greenhouse gas emissions in coming decades.

Climate change and its consequences are already being felt. Beyond 1.50C, the situation is likely to rapidly deteriorate.

We are among the climate scientists who contributed to the latest IPCC report, including on the question of 1.50C warming. Here, we go beyond the headlines to explain how the 1.50C rise is measured – and why maintaining the lowest global warming possible is what really matters.

The IPCC says Earth is likely to get close to, or reach, 1.5°C warming by the early 2030s.

The most important goal

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations agreed to hold global warming to well below 20C, and preferably limit it to 1.50C, compared to pre-industrial levels.

The first global stock take of that agreement will be held in 2023, to assess the world’s progress towards achieving its goals. That’s one of the reasons global warming levels are being so keenly watched right now.

The IPCC’s latest findings say 1.50C warming will be reached or exceeded in the early 2030s in all emissions scenarios considered – except the highest emissions scenario, for which the crossing could occur even earlier.

But not all hope is lost. In the very low emissions scenario considered in the report – known officially as “SSP1-1.9” – Earth reaches 1.50C warming for a few decades, but drops back below it by the end of the century.

This point is important. It’s still possible for Earth to keep below 1.50C global warming this century, if we rapidly cut emissions to net-zero. All other scenarios lead to further global warming once 1.50C is reached.

However, if maintaining 1.50C is not possible, the next goal should be to limit global warming to 1.60C, then 1.70C and so on. Limiting warming to the lowest possible level is the most important goal. Every bit of warming we avoid will reduce the climate risks we face.

It’s still possible for Earth to keep below 1.5°C global warming this century, if we cut emissions quickly and deeply

How 1.5°C warming is measured

The declaration that Earth has reached 1.50C warming since the pre-industrial era will not be made after a single year, or a single location, passes that threshold.

The warming is measured as a global average over 20 years, to account for natural variability in the system.

Before global average temperatures officially reach 1.50C warming, we can expect quite a few years will exceed that limit. In fact, global temperatures exceeded 1.50C warming during individual months at the peak of the 2015-16 El Niño.

The industrial era – and associated greenhouse gas emissions – started in the 1700s. But there is almost no observed climate data on land outside Europe before the mid-19th century.

So, the period of 1850-1900 is used to approximate pre-industrial conditions. The IPCC estimates there was a likely temperature change of between -0.1 to +0.30C for the century or so before this where climate data is lacking.

According to the latest IPCC findings, Earth’s average temperature in the last decade was 1.090C warmer than the pre-industrial baseline. Obviously, this goes most of the way to 1.50C of warming. The IPCC says this warming is unequivocally the result of human influence.

The new science

Several innovations have helped inform the IPCC’s latest assessment. For the first time, the IPCC’s estimate of future global temperature change is based on three factors.

First are projections using new scenarios, “Shared Socio-economic Pathways” or SSPs. Each pathway refers to different trajectories the world’s society and economy could take, and the emissions that would result.

A range of climate models – the result of much global scientific effort – is used to simulate climate change in response to each pathway.

Second, climate models are verified against observed climate data. Climate models are essential tools, but should always be used carefully. This grounding in observations was particularly needed with the latest round of climate models, to bring their results in line with other types of evidence.

Third, the IPCC used an assessment of “climate sensitivity” – how sensitive Earth’s temperature is to a doubling of global CO² concentrations. The IPCC’s assessment of the evidence puts climate sensitivity at likely between 2.50C and 40C, with low-likelihood possibilities of less than 20C or more than 50C.

If humanity is lucky, and actual climate sensitivity is in the lowest plausible range, Earth may not reach the 1.50C warming limit under the lowest emissions scenarios (but still will under the medium or high ones). If we are unlucky and climate sensitivity is in the high range, the need to quickly reach net-zero emissions becomes even greater.

Where does this leave us?

The latest IPCC findings confirm Earth will be in the ballpark of 1.50C warming in the early 2030s. What happens after that depends on the decisions we make today.

With deep and sustained reductions in CO² and other greenhouse gas emissions in coming decades, we could keep warming around the 1.50C mark and then bring it below that threshold by the end of the century.

The IPCC findings are worrying, but should not be a distraction from our global climate efforts. Staying below 1.50C warming is important. But maintaining the lowest global warming we can – whether or not we exceed the 1.50C goal – is what really matters.

NOTE: The article is republished with permission from under the Creative Commons License.

Article authors ………..

Michael Grose: His research focuses on climate projections and communication for southeast Australia, as well as climate model evaluation and making climate projections for Pacific Island nations.

Malte Meinshausen: Director of the Australian-German College of Climate & Energy Transitions at The University of Melbourne. He is Senior Researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact.

Zebedee Nicholls: PhD Researcher at the University of Melbourne’s Climate & Energy College. His work has focused on the development and evaluation of reduced-complexity climate models.

Pep Canadell: Chief research scientist in CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere. He heads up the Global Carbon Project which reviews interactions between the carbon cycle, climate, and human activities.

Whole Food Living reviews and selects material from a wide variety of international sources. Our primary focus covers food, health and environment. We publish fact checked official announcements made as the result of formal studies conducted by Universities, respected health care organisations, journals, and scientists around the globe.

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