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Is there still time to avoid catastrophic climate outcomes?

According to a recent survey conducted by the journal Nature, two thirds of the climate scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that they expect the world to warm by at least 3°C, compared to pre-industrial temperatures, by the end of this century. The estimate is well beyond the Paris agreement’s goal to limit global warming to 1.5–2 °C.

Most of the scientists who responded to the survey expressed fear that the world is running out of time to avoid the catastrophic effects of anthropogenic climate change, and showed marked skepticism that governments will manage to slow the pace of global warming – despite the political promises they made at the Paris agreement in 2015.

Eighty-eight percent of the respondents claimed that the world is experiencing an enormous climate crisis and said that they expected to witness catastrophic impact of climate change during their own lifetimes. 

Half of the participants said that global warming is causing them to reconsider major life decisions, such as where to live and whether to have children or not, and over 60 percent reported that they experience climate-induced anxiety, grief, and other psychological distress. 

“The pessimism expressed by some IPCC panelists underscores the vast gulf between hopes and expectations for the climate summit that began this week in Glasgow. In advance of the meeting, the United States, the European Union, China and others have announced new plans to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, although scientific analyses suggest those plans still fall well short of the Paris goals.” 

“Over the next two weeks, countries will formalize and perhaps even strengthen those commitments. But making them a reality will require as-yet-unprecedented political mobilization at the national level once leaders return home,” the survey authors warned.

Fortunately, a pessimistic outlook does not seem to completely extinguish hope that the situation could improve. Two-thirds of the scientists involved in the survey claimed that they are persistently engaging in advocacy related to climate change, by promoting science through speeches, publications, and videos, contacting lawmakers or government officials to advocate specific climate policies, signing letters or petitions calling for action, or participating in demonstrations.

As Charles Koven, a climate scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, put it, “I believe that the majority of people really do care about the future, and that it is possible for governments to coordinate and avoid the worst climate outcomes.”

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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