Emissions must slow by 2020
Past then, only a ‘jump to distress’ can save planet
THE world has three years to start making significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions or face the prospect of dangerous global warming, experts have warned in an article in prestigious journal Nature.
Calling for world leaders to be guided by the scientific evidence rather than “hide their heads in the sand”, they said “entire ecosystems” were already beginning to collapse, summer sea ice was disappearing in the Arctic and coral reefs were dying from the heat.
The world could emit enough carbon to bust the Paris Agreement target of between 1.5–2 degrees in four to 26 years if current levels continued, the article said.
Global emissions had been rising rapidly but plateaued in recent years. The experts, led by Christiana Figueres – who as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change played a key role in the Paris Agreement – said they must start to fall rapidly from 2020 at the latest.
“The year 2020 is crucially important for another reason, one that has more to do with physics than politics,” they said.
Citing a report published in April, they added: “Should emissions continue to rise beyond 2020, or even remain level, the temperature goals set in Paris become almost unattainable.
“Lowering emissions globally is a monumental task, but research tells us that it is necessary, desirable and achievable.”
The article was signed by more than 60 scientists, such as Professor Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University; politicians, including former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and ex-Irish President Mary Robinson; business people such as Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever; investment managers; environmental campaigners and others.
Since the 1880s, the world’s temperature has risen by about one degree because of greenhouse gases resulting from human activity – a process predicted by a Swedish Nobel Prizewinning scientist in 1895.
The Nature article laid out the effect of this sudden increase on the planet.
“Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are already losing mass at an increasing rate,” it said. “Summer sea ice is disappearing in the Arctic and coral reefs are dying from heat stress – entire ecosystems are starting to collapse.”
And it added: “The social impacts of climate change from intensified heatwaves, droughts and sea-level rise are inexorable and affect the poorest and weakest first.”
Humanity is emitting about 41 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide a year, but if the Paris target is to be met it has a carbon “budget” of between only 150 and 1050 gigatonnes.
“If the current rate of annual emissions stays at this level, we would have to drop them almost immediately to zero once we exhaust the budget. Such a ‘jump to distress’ is in no one’s interest. A more gradual descent would allow the global economy time to adapt smoothly,” the experts wrote.
“It is still possible to meet the Paris temperature goals if emissions begin to fall by 2020 ... those in power must stand up for science.”
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