Limiting global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius above baseline is no longer seen as enough to prevent a catastrophic sea level rise that would decimate Earth’s coasts and displace hundreds of millions of people, climate scientists warn.
A report released Thursday by the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, compiled by more than 60 scientists and policy experts, is sounding the alarm over new modeling data that indicates the 2015 Paris Agreement is woefully out of date.
The consortium urges world leaders to take stock of new research ahead of the United Nations COP28 climate conference later this month. According to the report, the only way forward is to ensure that global temperatures do not rise more than 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels, far below the two-degree maximum set out in the Paris Climate Accords.
“We have time, but not much time,” says the preface to the report, written by the president of Chile and prime minister of Iceland. “We can’t negotiate with the ice melting point.”
If average global temperatures rise by two degrees, Earth will face a sea level rise of more than 12 meters, or 40 feet — and that’s the conservative estimate.
The report states that sea levels could rise by as much as 20 meters, or 65 feet, citing a “compelling number of new studies, taking into account ice dynamics, paleoclimatic records from Earth’s past, and recent observations of ice sheet behavior.” ”.
If that happens, the planet will face “extensive coastal losses and damage far beyond the limits of viable adaptation,” the report warns.
This melting would occur over decades, even centuries, but would result in a dramatic reshaping of the Earth’s coastline.
During a meeting at the UN in February, Secretary-General António Guterres said that rising sea levels will cause a “mass exodus of entire populations on a biblical scale,” noting that 900 million people – representing 10 percent of the world’s population – live in low-lying areas. -located coastal areas.
And this prediction of a 12 to 20 meter rise in sea level was modeled on the already absurd hope that the world could limit warming to two degrees.
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which organizes the COP climate conferences, the world is on track to warm 2.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.
Even if humanity somehow managed to reverse this warming, sea levels would continue to rise, the report warns.
“Many ice sheet scientists now believe that, at 2°C, almost all of Greenland, much of West Antarctica and even vulnerable portions of East Antarctica will face an inexorable, long-term rise in sea levels, even if air temperatures subsequently decrease. This is due to a warmer ocean that will retain heat longer than the atmosphere,” the report says.
Melting glaciers and permafrost were also highlighted as areas of concern in the report, with scientists warning that some glaciers “will disappear, some as early as 2050”, the projections show.
“Other (glaciers) are large enough to delay total loss until the next century, but have already passed the point of no return. Even the Himalayas are predicted to lose about 50% of their current ice at 2°C.”
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And as permafrost around the world also thaws, it releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trapped inside, which further exacerbates global warming.
With a warming of 2ºC, “these emissions are irreversibly triggered and will not slow down for one or two centuries”, the report reads, adding that even a warming of 1.5ºC may even be “too high to prevent extensive melting of the permafrost.”
To keep emissions from melting permafrost under control, future generations will have to offset them through carbon capture, the report says.
The report’s findings contribute to a growing air of urgency surrounding the climate crisis and the measures that will be needed to avoid catastrophic effects.
Current national climate plans submitted to the UN on Climate Change would put 2030 carbon emissions just two percent below 2019 levels. To achieve 1.5°C warming, the world would need to reduce carbon emissions by 43%.
“The downward trend in emissions expected through 2030 shows that nations have made some progress this year,” said Simon Stiell, UN Executive Secretary for Climate Change.
“But the science is clear, as are our climate goals under the Paris Agreement. We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emissions reductions needed to put us on the path to a 1.5 degrees Celsius world. To keep this goal alive, national governments need to strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them over the next eight years.”
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