Global temperatures have risen steadily over the past 20 years, with average values exceeding the 1-degree Celsius limit in the last three years. This contravenes the terms of the 2015 Paris Agreement when countries agreed to undertake measures to ‘hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’. However, according to political leaders, activists and some scientists, the 1.5 C target is still feasible —barely, but at least it’s technically possible.
Let’s see how several climate change experts responded to our questions about the feasibility of the planet’s #1 most important climate goal – that of limiting Earth’s warming to 1.5°C.
DevelopmentAid: Why, despite all efforts, is the world’s 1.5°C goal slipping out of reach?
“The 1.5-degree temperature limit goal is a product both of science and of advocacy by the most vulnerable countries fighting for self-preservation in the face of climate change. Given the trajectory that global greenhouse gases have been on over the last three decades, this lower limit was always going to be difficult to achieve. Now, however, with the window of opportunity rapidly closing, it’s highly implausible. This is primarily because – at a global scale – the efforts thus far have been inadequate. Many of the world’s largest emitters have set goals that are compatible with a 2-degree temperature rise, rather than the more stringent 1.5-degree level. Some, of course, have less ambitious targets that aren’t even consistent with 2 degrees. Moreover, while target-setting is a crucial step, actual implementation towards such targets has lagged behind in many countries. In some cases, the slow pace is due to political reasons, in others due to economic and financial considerations. Despite all the lip service paid to a low-carbon future, many of the world’s major and emerging economies still operate on the belief that decarbonization will straitjacket economic growth.”
“The goal of a 1.5-degree threshold is still achievable, although with a closing window of opportunity. The recent IPCC reports point out the pathways and emission-reduction options that can get us there as well as the increasing impacts, losses and damages of surpassing this goal. What is also clear is the need for systemic transformations and the decade we have to get those in place. Despite the science being clear, as you mention, we also need political will and the understanding that all the current challenges are related, for example, the pandemic, economic growth, food security and climate change are not independent problems and should not be viewed as such.”
“Witnessing the inadequate efforts being made throughout the world to mitigate climate change, the United Nations is voicing its concern. The multinational organization makes it plain in a number of publications that emissions are not declining quickly enough to prevent a rise in global temperature of 1.5° Celsius over pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. If countries maintain their existing practices, there is a 20% probability that global warming might reach 3°C. Countries are not acting accordingly to make the 1.5°C goal achievable, and this will be detrimental for the world and those who inhabit it. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and storms are just a few examples of extreme weather phenomena that are already getting worse. Even once temperatures stabilize, some glaciers will probably continue to recede and sea levels to rise. The Great Barrier Reef and the enormous Amazon rainforest are two of the most famous ecosystems in the world, yet both are undergoing irreversible changes. Some island governments and whole coastal settlements run the risk of vanishing under the rising seas. However, the 1.5°C aim, according to world leaders, activist groups, as well as some scientists, is still doable — barely, but at least it is technically achievable. However, reducing emissions by at least 45% over the next 10 years would need a massive, urgent commitment. That would require that millions of gas-powered vehicles would probably have to be removed from the road, fossil fuel power facilities would have to shut down or modify their operations to contain their carbon emissions, and wetlands and forests would have to be preserved from chainsaws and development. Additionally, carbon dioxide would have to be extracted from the atmosphere. The 1.5°C-threshold is becoming increasingly improbable as the world is not on track to accomplish these goals.”
DevelopmentAid: Besides promoting green energy and limiting fossil fuel use – what other approaches would you suggest to prevent the rise in world temperature?
“At this stage, transforming our power systems and scaling up clean energy – while accelerating the phasing out of fossil fuels – is still the most impactful, long-term solution. However, we are at a juncture when additional measures need to be brought into play if we are serious about limiting temperature rise. In my professional opinion, removing carbon dioxide safely from the atmosphere and storing it securely, irreversibly (i.e., sequestering in ways that prevent leakage back into the atmosphere), and in economically viable ways is going to be a critical piece of the puzzle. Hence, Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), including Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS), and potentially other climate engineering technologies have to be studied rigorously, piloted, and their impacts (positive and negative as well as potential unintended consequences) need to be well understood, so that these approaches can be deployed in an informed, well regulated, just, and equitable manner in the coming decades. Even so, we may still experience an overshoot of the temperature threshold initially but might be better equipped to lower the temperature rise by the of the century.”
“We cannot all use the same method to stop or slow global warming, as every country has their own limitations and are at different stages of development. Each individual, business, and country must weigh their options in regards to their own distinctive set of circumstances. Aside from promoting green energy and limited fossil fuel use, here are some other things to consider and put into practice:
- Carbon capture. Many scientists attribute the Earth’s increasing average temperature mostly to human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases which trap heat that would otherwise exit into space. Carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have grown by over 50% since the start of the industrial revolution, making it one of the most prominent greenhouse gases. Carbon collection, usage, and storage technologies are among the innovations being employed to minimize CO2 emissions; the Net Zero Teesside (NZT) project is an intriguing example.
- Feeding seaweed to cows. Methane emissions (NH4), which are breaking records because of livestock rearing, are another key greenhouse gas. According to recent research, between 2000 and 2017, agriculture was responsible for nearly two-thirds of all human-related methane emissions, with fossil fuels making up the majority of the remaining portion. Due to the way cows digest their food—fermenting it in their stomachs where the carbohydrates are transformed into simpler molecules that may be absorbed by the body—the majority of this methane is produced when cows burp. Researchers have shown that supplementing cattle feed with red seaweed that grows in the tropics can cut cows’ methane emissions by 80%. Given that there are almost 1.5 billion cattle in the world, there is not nearly enough of this seaweed accessible right now to stop these burps. However, some scientists might be able to duplicate the essential component that will keep them down.
- Continue remote working. Many office duties may be successfully performed from home, as the coronavirus epidemic has demonstrated, potentially providing a means of reducing emissions from vehicles and office buildings. The primary source of carbon emissions in the industrialized world is personal transportation to and from work. Businesses scrambled to control the effects of COVID-19 on their workforces, while governments hastened to shut down their nations and prevent mass casualties, prompting a quick adoption of remote working technologies.
- Energy efficiency in homes. Making houses more energy efficient will have the greatest impact on lowering total energy usage which will be the most effective technological answer to combating climate change. Many of the newest items on the market today have the technology to do this and may save family expenses by hundreds of dollars yearly. The European Union has devised an energy labelling process that assigns ratings to appliances based on how energy-efficient they are, letting customers know how much it will cost to run appliances like refrigerators and washing machines, as well as other items like light bulbs and televisions. ”
“Emission reduction beyond switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy include options in other sectors, such as:
1. Agriculture, Forestry, and other Land Use (AFOLU), with options that include:
- Soil carbon management
- Reduced conversion of natural ecosystems
- Afforestation, reforestation, and restoration
- Forest and fire management
- Reduced CH4 and N2O emissions from agriculture
- Shift to sustainable healthy diets
- Reduced food loss and food waste
- Renewable energy supply (timber, biomass, agri feedstock)
2. Within urban systems, the options assessed include:
- Urban land use and spatial planning
- District heating and cooling networks
- Electrification of the urban energy system
- Urban green and blue infrastructure
- Waste prevention, minimization and management
- Building design and performance
- Change in construction methods and circular economy
- Change in construction materials
- Demand side management
- Fuel efficiency
- Electric light-duty vehicles
- Fuel shift
Beyond the options listed above, by sectors, we need to increasingly look at the integration of actions across sectors and within system transitions where we can jointly look at emission reduction, risk reduction and the achievement of sustainable development goals. Some options that reduce emissions can increase risks to humans and/or ecosystems and therefore a systemic approach is needed now as we need to significantly reduce emissions. Options, strategies and innovations that take this approach will be increasingly needed as we approach or surpass 1.5C of global warming levels.”
DevelopmentAid: In your opinion, why don’t people change their behavior and everyday life? Is climate change such a ‘far-away’ problem?
“As to why day-to-day behavior is so hard to change, it’s partly a ‘present bias’ or time preference problem of valuing (in economic and psychological terms) utility in the present-day over the benefits in the long-term. It’s also a slow-onset challenge that does not affect the majority of us in acute ways (except for those who have already suffered damage from climate-driven or climate-exacerbated extreme weather events, for instance) and is more chronic in nature. Acute events trigger a more concerted response whereas chronic challenges spur less dramatic remedial action. Ultimately, though, it comes down to the fact that changing systems and processes that elevate our quality of life is counter to our nature. Our lives are made better due to the energy services we enjoy, due to the mobility options that vehicles afford us, and due to the range of foods we can get nutrition from. Anything that feels like ‘sacrifice’ or even ‘adjustment’ is unlikely to succeed — and is definitely a hard sell to the billions on our planet who are battling to climb out of poverty and to achieve the quality of life the rest of us have attained in resource-intensive ways. This is why it’s less pragmatic to expect behavior change to underpin climate change solutions, and it’s more practical and sustainable to find ways to enable human beings and society at large to enjoy the amenities we have come to see value in but by transforming our energy systems so that all the trappings of modern life are powered in more resource-efficient ways, and by resources that do not contribute to climate change.”
“Behavioral change needs to be integral in its approach and while it enables other emission reduction responses, in some cases it also needs to be enabled. In some cases, there needs to be more reliable and trustworthy information about the benefits of a given behavioral change, as well as better ways of transmitting knowledge. But behavior changes might also need to be accompanied by policy or institutional changes. For example, if we think of public transportation being green and more efficient, people will not use it if public transportation is still not safe. That is, a change in fuel type by itself doesn’t diminish the cases of theft, rape, harassment and assault that there may be. So in this case, putting in a plan for public security and safety and improved public lighting can go a long way in promoting the use of public transportation and thus helping in the change in transportation modes.”
“Most of us have the best of intentions when it comes to combating climate change. We all want to act morally, but when change proves to be too challenging or inconvenient, individuals tend to revert to their old routines. The possibility of climate change is too far off for many people to consider it seriously. The reality is that climate change is very much in the present and not some distant threat. Although its repercussions may seem far off, the adjustments we need to undertake are right now. For the time being, it is advantageous for both people and organizations to ignore climate change. If people choose to disregard the impact their carbon footprint has on the globe, they are not required to make adjustments to the vehicles they drive, the goods they purchase, or the residences they live in. If companies do not need to create new methods to reduce carbon emissions, they may continue to produce goods at lower costs. Governments can save money by relying on combustion-based power generation techniques rather than creating and advancing green energy sources, even ones that are more cost-efficient in the long term. The majority of people are far from many of the consequences of climate change. According to research on the construal level hypothesis, individuals conceive objects that are psychologically remote from them (in terms of time, location, or social distance) more reflectively than those that are psychologically close to them. Wildfires and strong storms are two examples of meteorological catastrophes that frequently occur far from where most people reside. These catastrophes are likely a result of climate change. Because of this, most people are free to regard climate change as an abstract idea rather than having to deal with its specifics. And concrete conceptions just compel individuals to behave more strongly than abstract ones do. Always, the future is less definite than the here and now. People cherish the present more intensely because of this, among other things. Many people ignore the consequences of climate change that are already occurring and continue to hold onto the belief that many of these catastrophes will occur in the far future when, in their eyes, they will no longer be alive to witness the effects.”
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