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Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is not plausible

According to a new study released by University of Hamburg’s Cluster of Excellence “Climate, Climatic Change, and Society” (CLICCS), limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is currently not plausible. The experts systematically assessed the social changes that contribute to global warming, while also analyzing physical processes known as “tipping points,” and concluded that, although social change is essential for meeting the temperature goals set by the Paris Agreement, what has been achieved to date is insufficient.

“Actually, when it comes to climate protection, some things have now been set in motion. But if you look at the development of social processes in detail, keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees still isn’t plausible,” said CLICCS Speaker Anita Engels.

The analysis revealed that consumption patterns and corporate responses are slowing urgently needed climate protection measures, while factors such as UN climate policy, legislation, climate protests, and divestment from the use of fossil fuels are supporting global efforts to meet the climate goals. Unfortunately, the experts estimate that this positive dynamic alone is insufficient for remaining within the 1.5 degrees limit. “The deep decarbonization required is simply progressing too slowly,” Engels warned.

The scientists also assessed several physical processes that are referred to as tipping points – such as the loss of Arctic ice, the thawing of the permafrost, the weakening of the Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), and the loss of the Amazon rainforest – and concluded that they will impact only moderately global warming. 

“The Fact is: these feared tipping points could drastically change the conditions for life on Earth – but they’re largely irrelevant for reaching the Paris Agreement temperature goals,” reported CLICCS Co-Speaker Prof. Jochem Marotzke, a climate scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology.

Finally, the researchers also addressed the Covid-19 and the Ukraine crises, arguing that economic reconstruction programs have reinforced dependence on fossil fuels. However, whether current efforts to safeguard Europe’s power supply and various countries’ attempts to become independent of Russian gas will accelerate or undermine the phasing out of fossil fuels in the long-term remains an open question.

The best hope for mitigating climate change continues to rely most heavily on human agency, with transnational initiatives urgently needed to protect our planet. “The question of what is not just theoretically possible, but also plausible, that is, can realistically be expected, offers us new points of departure. If we fail to meet the climate goals, adapting to the impacts will become all the more important,” Engels said.

“In order to be equipped for a warmer world, we have to anticipate changes, get the affected parties on board, and take advantage of local knowledge. Instead of just reacting, we need to begin an active transformation here and now,” she concluded.

The Hamburg Climate Futures Outlook 2021 can be found here.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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