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Global warming will happen faster than we think


5 December 2018 — From developments in renewable energy, to the growing capacity of energy-storage systems and the adoption of electric vehicles, global action taken to combat rising temperatures has undoubtedly come a long way. But as climate impacts mount, little time remains to ramp up the necessary ambition to limit temperatures to 1.5°C, possibly even less than recent estimates predict. These are the conclusions of two parallel Comment articles in Nature, released for the global 2018 conference on climate change, COP24.

The Comments offer different assessments of climate action taken to date. Emissions are still rising: ramp up the cuts, co-authored by Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC and organizer of the Paris Agreement, along with colleagues and industry co-signatories, optimistically emphasizes the accelerating speed at which cities, regions, investors and companies are cutting emissions and investing in solutions. The authors note “already we have achieved things that seemed unimaginable a decade ago…. The same is true of decarbonizing the economy by 2050.”

However, Global warming will happen faster than we think, authored by Texas A&M University Professor Yangyang Xu, and professors of the University of California, San Diego, D. Victor and V. Ramanathan, warns global leaders there may be less time to respond to existential risks posed by climate change than most realize.

The authors note the latest scientific reports on climate science, including the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, underplay the critical fact that global warming is still accelerating, making note of three trends — rising emissions, declining air pollution, and natural climate cycles — that “combine over the next 20 years to make climate change faster and more furious than anticipated.” They predict the IPCC miscalculates the date the 1.5°C threshold will be reached, and it could occur up to a decade earlier, with a 10% chance of reaching it by 2025.

The authors recommend the need to focus analysis on the near-term including the worst-case outcomes, as this is when we could win or lose a decisive battle in the effort to keep the climate relatively safe;

It’s unfortunate we have to deal with multiple warming factors, some due to us, some due to nature, at the same time. The acceleration, not just the warming itself, poses challenges for adaptation. This should jolt society, scientists and policymakers to rethink their roles, objectives and approaches when it comes to climate change.

- Y. Xu, assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University

Climate change is in the living room of most Californians. In about 12 years, when the warming reaches 1.5°C, it will be in the living room of every citizen of the planet, adversely affecting billions. But there is still time to avoid major disasters, provide we deploy fast action plans, including drastically cutting super pollutants (methane, black carbon and HFCs); and extracting at least 15 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year.

- V. Ramanathan, professor of atmospheric and climate sciences, UCSD

With self-reinforcing feedbacks and tipping points that could push the planet into chaos beyond human control, the world needs to radically speed up climate solutions. Examples like the US Climate Alliance road map to reduce powerful emissions of super pollutants and the 2016 Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol show how we can deliver near term temperature abatement, and help keep the world from exceeding 1.5°C.

“Climate change is moving faster than climate solutions, and it is axiomatic that we can’t solve climate change this way. Slow solutions can’t solve a fast-moving problem like climate change” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.

Authors and co-signatories of both pieces agree that “a shared purpose across all political, civil and industrial sectors is key” to ensuring that the exponential curve of solutions outpaces that of climate impacts.

Available at:

Nature, Emissions are still rising: ramp up the cuts, Vol 564, 5 December 2018

Nature, Global warming will happen faster than we think, Vol 564, 5 December 2018