Radical action required to avoid dangerous climate change

Radical action required to avoid dangerous climate change

The consequences of a rise in global warming of 2°C by 2100 have been severely underestimated, according to findings by a team of international scientists.

Swift and radical action must be taken to achieve a more sustainable target of 1°C, research led by James Hansen, former director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in collaboration with academics including Professor of Soils & Global Change at the University of Aberdeen, Pete Smith, has revealed.

The study, published today (Tuesday December 3) in PLOS ONE questions the global warming target set by the United Nations Framework Convention when evaluated against trends in potential and currently developing fossil fuel exploitation.

Urgent strategies for emission reduction must be implemented to avoid the drastic impact of continued fossil fuel extraction, according to the findings.

They highlighted:

  • The need for rapid greenhouse gas emissions reduction to restore Earth's energy balance and avoid ocean heat uptake that would practically guarantee irreversible effects including sea level rise and species extinctions
  • Uncertainty not about whether continued rapid CO2 emissions would cause large sea level rise, submerging global coastlines, but how soon the large changes would begin.
  • Impacts that directly affect humans coming from increased frequency and severity of extreme events such as heat-waves, floods, droughts and storms, affecting billions of people worldwide, and the consequential impacts on human health in relation to such events.

The research shows that global reforestation and emission reductions need to start within the next decade to achieve the suggested new 1°C target by 2100.

Lead author Dr James Hansen explains: “Meeting this target of 1°C requires major reforestation as well as 6% emission reduction per year, starting almost immediately. Delay until 2020 means that more drastic measures are then required, with major reforestation and 15% emission reduction per year. The situation is very urgent.”

Letting the targets ‘slip’ would cause impacts that are irreversible on timescales of less than thousands of years, according to the findings.

The study suggests continuation of high fossil fuel emissions, given current knowledge of the consequences, would commit our children and grandchildren to a dangerous future, and that knowing the likely consequences, would constitute an act of wilful intergenerational injustice by our generation.

It also posits that responsible policymaking requires a rising price on carbon emissions that would preclude emissions from most remaining coal and unconventional fossil fuels, and phase down emissions from conventional fossil fuels.

The study concludes by considering the economical, humanitarian, and legal implications of the current choice between ignoring the evidence or developing suitable action.

Professor Pete Smith said: “Instead of finding ever more ingenious ways of extracting every last drop of increasingly climate-damaging fossil fuel from the earth, we should be using our skills and talents to develop alternatives to fossil fuels.

“The window of opportunity for action is closing. We simply cannot wait until we have burned all of the fossil fuel before we take action. We need to take rapid and decisive action now for the sake of our children and their children.”