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Study reveals the final deadline for action on climate change

A new study published by the European Geosciences Union is warning that if governments do not take decisive action to mitigate climate change by 2035, we are likely to reach a point where it will be impossible to limit global warming to 2°C by the end of this century.

The research team, including scientists from the UK and the Netherlands, also found that the opportunity to limit warming to 1.5°C has already ended – unless radical action is taken.

Study co-author Henk Dijkstra is a professor of Dynamical Oceanography at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

“In our study we show that there are strict deadlines for taking climate action,” said Professor Dijkstra. “We conclude that very little time is left before the Paris targets (to limit global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C) become infeasible even given drastic emission reduction strategies.”

The researchers set out to find the “point of no return,” or the deadline for climate action, which they consider to be the latest possible year the world could begin significantly cutting greenhouse-gas emissions before dangerous climate change becomes inevitable.

Matthias Aengenheyster is a doctoral researcher at the University of Oxford and the study’s lead author.

“The ‘point of no return’ concept has the advantage of containing time information, which we consider very useful to inform the debate on the urgency of taking climate action,” said Aengenheyster.

Based on data from climate models, the team determined that the deadline for starting climate action depends on how fast emissions are reduced by the use of more renewable energy.

If renewable energy could be increased by two percent every year, this must begin by the year 2035. If emissions were reduced at a faster rate by increasing the share of renewable energy by five percent each year, the deadline could be pushed forward ten years to 2045.

The researchers emphasize, however, that even the more modest climate-action scenario is quite ambitious.

“The share of renewable energy refers to the share of all energy consumed. This has risen over the course of over two decades from almost nothing in the late nineties to 3.6% in 2017 according to the BP Statistical Review, so the (yearly) increases in the share of renewables have been very small,” explained study co-author Rick van der Ploeg.  

“Considering the slow speed of large-scale political and economic transformations, decisive action is still warranted as the modest-action scenario is a large change compared to current emission rates.”

Professor Dijkstra concluded, “We hope that ‘having a deadline’ may stimulate the sense of urgency to act for politicians and policy makers. Very little time is left to achieve the Paris targets.”

The study is published in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Anita Di Chiara

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