A new study published in the journal Nature, conducted with the assistance of the Global Commons Alliance, has highlighted the imminent threat of exceeding the 1.5°C temperature limit set by experts to avoid a catastrophic climate crisis.
The research, backed by more than 70 research and policy centers, including the World Economic Forum and The Nature Conservancy, reveals that developing countries will bear a heavy burden from the impacts of climate change.
According to the study, even if climate targets are met, approximately 200 million people in impoverished regions will experience extreme heat waves, while 500 million people will face disastrous consequences from rising sea levels.
Scientists call for a stricter cap to combat rising temperatures
In light of these findings, the scientists advocate setting a stricter global standard to combat rising temperatures around the world. They argue that to protect large populations from significant harm, a new limit of one degree Celsius or less must be implemented. However, it should be noted that the Earth’s temperature has already increased by 1.2°C compared to levels of 150 years ago.
The researchers emphasize the urgent need for comprehensive global changes in various sectors, including energy, food, and urban planning. They highlight the importance of ensuring access for the less fortunate by reducing consumption and redistributing resources, while also addressing economic, technological, and political challenges within the Earth system.
Temperatures are expected to rise to 2.7°C by 2100
The study’s findings are alarming, especially considering that greenhouse gas emissions remain at record levels and that current policies are on track to cause a 2.7°C rise in temperature by the end of the century. Johan Rockström, lead author of the study, warns that the stability and resilience of the entire planet is at risk. The research also reveals stark inequality in emissions, with the world’s richest 1% contributing twice the amount emitted by the bottom 50%.
The study further highlights that we have already exceeded safe limits in three areas identified in 2009: greenhouse gas concentrations, species extinction rates, and nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. Deforestation, excessive use of freshwater, the prevalence of synthetic chemicals, pollution from foreign particles, and ocean acidification are approaching or have already passed critical thresholds.
The scientists stress the urgency of acting as tipping points in various ecosystems, such as the Greenland ice sheet, permafrost and the Amazon rainforest, which may soon suffer irreversible damage. These events could cause sea level rise, massive CO2 and methane emissions, and the transformation of tropical forests into savannahs.
In the future, it is crucial to restore the ozone layer and promote a fairer world within the limits of the planet. The study calls for global justice and cooperation to ensure a secure and sustainable future for all.
Natural and social scientists
In 2019, an international team of natural and social scientists, known as the Earth Commission, was formed with the goal of advancing the framework of planetary boundaries. Led by Johan Rockström, the team has focused on improving fairness and equity while setting quantitative scientific targets at various scales.
Their recent study, presented during a press conference, presents an updated framework of Earth system boundaries that seeks to maintain planetary stability and minimize significant harm to both humans and other species through a justice-oriented approach.
The study authors carefully selected five of the original nine planetary systems—namely, climate, biosphere, water, nutrients, and air pollution—as focal areas. They then identified eight key indicators, including levels of warming, areas of natural ecosystems, and surface water flow, to effectively monitor these systems. The chosen indicators were designed to be implementable among various stakeholders, from cities and companies to countries around the world.
The framework takes fairness considerations into account when assessing the conditions necessary to prevent significant harm on both a global and local scale. Interspecies justice emphasizes the prioritization of other species and ecosystems along with humanity. Intergenerational justice considers the long-term impacts of present actions on future generations. Intragenerational justice addresses factors such as race, class, and gender, which underpin inequality, vulnerability, and responsiveness to changes in planetary systems.
Dr. Steve Lade, a researcher involved in the study, emphasizes that fairness cannot be singularly quantified. While this paper focuses on significant harm exposure, other studies by team members have explored fairness in relation to factors such as access to resources. The intention is to consider justice as a vital component when formulating strategies for sustainable planetary management.
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