So there’s good news and bad news when it comes to predicting how hot the planet will get as a result of climate change, according to new research.
Scientists from the University of Exeter and the UK’s Centre of Ecology and Hydrology have developed a new method they claim can more accurately estimate the likely global temperature rise due to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Their findings have narrowed the previously accepted, fairly wide, range by 60 per cent.
Experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has forecast warming of between 1.5C and 4.5C if the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is stabilised at double pre-industrial levels. But the latest study suggests a smaller range of 2.2C to 3.4C, based on analysis of year-on-year temperature fluctuations instead of warming trends to date.
So it could be better, but also could be worse – depending on what the world does next.
Exeter’s Professor Peter Cox explains: “You can think of global warming as the stretching of a spring as we hang weights from it, and climate sensitivity as related to the strength of the spring. To relate the observed global warming to climate sensitivity you need to know the amount of weight being added to the spring, which climate scientists call the ‘forcing’, and also how quickly the spring responds to added weight. Unfortunately, we know neither of these things very well.”
During ice ages, levels were around 200ppm, and they hovered around 280ppm during warmer interglacial periods. But concentrations surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) in 2013 for the first time in hundreds of thousands of years.
Readings taken at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii show levels hit 406.82ppm last month, a jump from 404.42ppm 12 months earlier. With a business as usual approach to emissions, the professor reckons carbon dioxide levels could reach 560ppm by 2050.
Many experts have said measures currently being pledged by countries who signed up to the Paris Agreement go nowhere near far enough to avoid exceeding the 2C danger limit set out in the treaty.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Cox insists the game’s not over yet. He remains optimistic that urgent, drastic actions to cut emissions could stave off what at the moment may seem inevitable.
This new climate sensitivity range should serve as a warning to international leaders to think bigger. It’s a case of grasping the nettle and setting stricter goals. There’s time, but not much.
Everyone everywhere needs to take climate change seriously and together make an effort to reduce our impact on the earth. And a new international language that has recently been developed could perhaps help us keep the conversation in the public domain. It’s called Climoji, a special toolkit of emoticons specially designed to communicate issues around climate change.
The toolkit contains 27 icons – including a whale with a bottle in its stomach, a drowning woman and a flatulent cow – to symbolise everything from marine plastic pollution to sea level rise and methane emissions.
One of the artists behind the venture has said she feels guilty about creating such a depressing set of symbols but claims people won’t take action unless they are “moved by how grim things are”. And perhaps that’s true.