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“Watered down hope”: experts wanted more of the climate pact


IN DEVELOPMENT … The story will be updated as new information can be verified. Updated 4 times

GLASGOW, Scotland – As global leaders and negotiators hail the Glasgow Climate Pact as a good compromise that maintains a key temperature limit, many scientists wonder which planet these leaders are looking at.

As they calculate the numbers, they see a whole different and warmer Earth.

“Overall, I think so, we have a good plan to keep the 1.5 degree target within our possibilities,” Patricia Espinosa, United Nations climate officer, told The Associated Press, referring to the overall goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, host of the conference, agreed, calling the deal a “clear roadmap to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees”.

But many scientists are much more skeptical. Forget about 1.5 degrees, they say. The Earth is always on a path of more than 2 degrees (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

“The 1.5 ° C target was already on life support before Glasgow and now is the time to declare it dead,” Princeton University climatologist Michael Oppenheim told The Associated Press on Sunday in a report. E-mail.

A few of the 13 scientists the PA asked about the Glasgow Pact said they saw just enough progress to keep the 1.5 degree Celsius limit alive – and with it, some hope. But hardly.

Optimists point to many of the Glasgow deals, including a US-China deal to work harder together to cut emissions this decade, as well as separate multinational deals that target methane emissions and coal-fired power. After six years of failure, a market-based mechanism would initiate credit trading that would reduce carbon in the air.

The 1.5 degree mark is the more stringent of the two targets of the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement. UN officials and scientists consider it essential because a 2018 scientific report found dramatic effects. worst on the world after 1.5 degrees.

The world has warmed by 1.1 degrees (2 degrees Fahrenheit) already since pre-industrial times, so it’s really a few tenths of a degree more. The United Nations has calculated that to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, countries must cut their emissions in half by 2030. Emissions are now increasing, not by about 14% since 2010, Espinosa said.

German researcher Hans-Otto Portner said the Glasgow conference “did work, but did not make enough progress”.

“The warming will far exceed 2 degrees Celsius. This development threatens nature, human life, livelihoods, habitats and also prosperity, ”said Portner, who co-chairs one of the scientific reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on which s ‘support the United Nations.

Instead of big changes by bending the temperature curve like the United Nations had hoped for from Glasgow, they got only tiny adjustments, according to scientists who run computer simulations.

“Coming out of Glasgow, we may have reduced the warming by 0.1 ° C… for a better estimate of the warming of 2.3 ° C,” said Zeke Hausfather, climatologist and director of the Breakthrough Institute, in an e -mail. Hausfather did climate modeling with colleagues for Carbon Brief.

MIT professor Jon Sterman said his Climate Interactive team had calculated some preliminary numbers after the Glasgow deal was concluded and that did not match the optimism of executives.

“There is no plausible way to limit the warming to 1.5 or even 2 (degrees) if the coal is not phased out … and as quickly as possible, along with the oil and gas,” he said. -he declares.

On Saturday, India secured a last-minute change to the pact: instead of the “phase-out” of coal and fossil fuel subsidies, the subsidies must be “phased out”. Several scientists have said that regardless of what the agreement says, coal must stop, not just decrease, to reduce future warming.

“‘Decreasing’ will do less to slow the adverse effects of climate change than ‘to eliminate’,” former NASA chief scientist Waleed Abdalati, an environmental researcher at the University of Colorado, said in an email .

Ahead of the pact’s conclusion, Climate Action Tracker, which also analyzes pledges to see how much they would cause warming, said promises to reduce emissions would result in 2.4 degrees warming.

The figure of 1.5 “is balanced on the edge of a knife,” said Australian researcher Bill Hare.

A paragraph of the pact – which calls on countries whose emission reduction targets do not meet the 1.5 or 2 degree limits to return with new, stronger targets by the end of next year – provides hope, Hare said.

But US climate envoy John Kerry said on Saturday night that the paragraph probably did not apply to the United States, the second largest emitter of coal and the largest historically, because the US target is so strong.

Jonathan Overpeck, climatologist and dean of the University of Michigan’s School of the Environment, said the pact brought “watered down hope. … We have an incomplete plan for slower action.

“I went to the (conference) thinking 1.5C was still alive, and it looks like world leaders just didn’t have the backbone for it,” Overpeck said in an email.

Progress has been made, said University of Illinois climatologist Donald Wuebbles, one of the lead authors of the United States National Climate Assessment. “But the probability of reaching 1.5 degrees is very small, even to the point of being almost impossible. Even being able to reach 2 degrees is less likely.

But some scientists have remained hopeful.

“For the first time, I can really see a way forward to limit warming to 1.5 ° C,” Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann said in an email. “But this will require both (a) countries to meet their current commitments and (b) further increase their current commitments.”

Johan Rockström of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact and Research in Germany pointed out the “optimistic” scenario that he and a few others see if all the countries that have pledged net zero emissions by the middle of the century actually achieve the goal – something that most haven’t actually started taking concrete action on.

In that case, the warming could be limited to 1.8 or 1.9 degrees, Rockström said.

“This is significant progress, but far from sufficient,” he said.


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The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


This story was first published on November 14, 2021. It was updated on November 15, 2021 to correct the current role of former NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati.