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Addressing short-term climate change threats will benefit future generations

Addressing short-term climate change threats will benefit future generations. While most climate mitigation strategies are focused on the remainder of this century, a new study led by Imperial College London suggests that such strategies should be focused on the next couple of decades. The researchers found that addressing the short-term threats of climate change will leave less of a burden for future generations.

Climate mitigation projects may include the deployment of renewable technologies, atmospheric carbon removal through planting trees and other methods, or new legislation to reach energy efficiency targets.

The logic behind the Imperial research is that climate plans which are designed to limit warming by 2100 leave too much time for complacency or harmful emissions earlier in the century. A long-term goal may ultimately rely on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in later decades, for example.

According to the researchers, climate strategies should account for when maximum warming will occur, what that level of warming should be, and whether warming is stabilized afterward.

The experts propose a sensible approach that is aimed at limiting global warming before 2050, which would depend less on unproven technologies and investment by future generations.

“When climate-change strategies were first proposed, more than 20 years ago, the planet had only warmed about 0.5°C, so there was time for a long, smooth transition to energy systems and economies that kept warming below 2°C by 2100,” said study lead author Dr. Joeri Rogelj.

“Now, however, we are at around 1°C warming and science of the last decade has shown that 2°C cannot be considered a safe limit. The need to stabilize warming more quickly is paramount, and therefore we suggest a focus on reaching net zero carbon emissions as a key milestone of any climate strategy.

“Turning the focus from the far future to the next decades, where push will come to shove in terms of adequate climate action, will help us reach the Paris Agreement goals without placing undue burden on future generations.”

In order to limit warming in the next couple of decades until it is stabilized, the research team suggests that net zero carbon emissions should be the focus of climate change efforts in the short term. Beyond net zero emissions, countries could develop a plan based on how much they need to reduce their contribution to global warming through additional carbon removal.

“Shifting the focus to more short-term warming will underpin the next assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and we hope it will also help policymakers formulate realistic strategies,” said Dr. Rogelj. “Policymakers want to know how and when we can reach net zero carbon, and our new logic for strategies could make these questions answerable.”

The study is published in the journal Nature.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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Image Credit: Shutterstock/Phil McDonald

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