A widely misreported new study finds — just as many studies have found before — that without sharp and nearly instantaneous emissions reductions in carbon pollution, the world is headed towards catastrophic levels of global warming.
But the authors’ original framing of their analysis — “Why the 1.5°C warming limit is not yet a geophysical impossibility” — led to Alice-in-Wonderland headlines, such as this one from Politico on Monday: “Climate skeptics find new favorite talking point.”
Sure, it’s “not yet a geophysical impossibility” that the world could take the actions needed to keep total warming to about 1.5°C (2.7°F). It’s also “not yet a geophysical impossibility” that I could become the next President of the United States. But neither of those things are going to happen, and so neither merit a headline.
“The study has been readily misrepresented by the usual suspects in the climate denial echo chamber as calling into question the urgency of carbon emissions reductions, when it does absolutely no such thing,” climatologist Michael Mann explained in an email to ThinkProgress.
Of course, it bears pointing out that the climate change deniers invariably push absurd talking points (which Skeptical Science does a great job of debunking).
This study, which found that super-aggressive emissions reductions could prevent total global warming from hitting 2.7°F would raise alarm bells in a more normal media environment. After all, the world has not embraced instantaneous and sharp emissions reductions. Instead, President Donald Trump has said global warming is a hoax and has adopted policies aimed at undermining U.S. and global climate action.
The authors explain that there is a chance of limiting warming to 2.7°F, the level scientists and governments have declared is the safest — but only if we see “a straight line decrease in CO2 emissions from today’s values to zero in about 40 years.”
“It’s worth noting that this budget explicitly considers a scenario that assumes strong action to reduce the contribution of non-CO2 gases (such as methane) to future warming is also undertaken alongside limiting CO2 emissions,” the authors add.
In reality, the world has not come close to adopting such policies. Worse, Trump’s domestic and global climate policies, which include leaving the Paris climate agreement, make them all but unattainable.
The analytical team at Climate Interactive has a chart showing where we are headed, and what is required to get on the lower warming path. The “national plans” that more than 190 countries committed to in Paris only require action through 2025 or 2030. If action is frozen after that, then total warming would be a disastrous 6.0°F. If Trump’s policies triumph now, we would be headed for an unimaginable 7.6°F warming.
The Paris goal is to stay “well below” 3.6°F, the threshold beyond which scientists project impacts rapidly shift from dangerous to catastrophic. To do that requires adopting policies that are considerably more ambitious than Paris — and doing so as soon as possible. Again, by abandoning the treaty, Trump makes such goals wildly implausible, even if they are still “geophysically possible.”
Bottom Line: Far from being an analysis that vindicates the deniers, the study underscores what a disaster their preferred climate policies continue to be America and the world.