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Showing Paris Not Enough, Studies Find 2°C Target Won't Stop 'Destructive and Deadly' Impacts of Global Warming

This crisis requires "not only climate scientists, but the whole Earth system science community, as well as economists, engineers, lawyers, philosophers, politicians, emergency planners, and others to step up." 

flooded haor

"Life in the haor of Bangladesh" is the cover photo for the May 13, 2018 issue of the British Journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. (Photo: Balaram Mahalder/Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A/CC)

A series of scientific studies published in a British journal on Monday echoes warnings from long-time critics of the Paris Agreement that meeting the accord's main goals will not be enough to prevent "destructive and deadly" impacts of the worldwide climate crisis.

The May issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A explores the challenges of working to achieve the 2015 agreement's foundational objectives, which are "to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C."

While the agreement has the support of all the world's nations except the United States—President Donald Trump has vowed to withdraw from it as soon as he can—it ultimately relies on signatories to develop their own pathways for meeting the goals, which has raised concerns among experts that the global community will fail to stay below the 2°C threshold.

The new journal issue's introduction emphasizes that this "multidisciplinary challenge"—a changing planet that is expected to influence nearly or all aspects of human life—requires "not only climate scientists, but the whole Earth system science community, as well as economists, engineers, lawyers, philosophers, politicians, emergency planners, and others to step up."

Multiple studies from the journal warn that global warming is likely to exacerbate worldwide inequality, particularly in poor countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

One analysis concludes that "projected impacts on economic growth of 1.5°C warming are close to indistinguishable from current climate conditions, while 2°C warming suggests statistically lower economic growth for a large set of countries." However, those researchers found that even 1.5°C warming would likely take a notable toll on economic growth in the Tropics and Southern Hemisphere.

Another study examines how "emission pathways consistent with limiting temperature increase to 1.5°C raise pressing questions from an equity perspective," noting that "these pathways would limit impacts and benefit vulnerable communities but also present trade-offs that could increase inequality." The researchers urge policymakers to more carefully evaluate the equity implications of various proposals and outline a strategy for doing so.

Among the greatest concerns about the warming plant is how changing weather patterns, including increased drought, flooding, and heatwaves, will decrease food security.

A team of researchers led by Richard Betts, head of climate impacts research at the University of Exeter, found that the nations which will face "the greatest increase in vulnerability to food insecurity when moving from the present-day climate to 2°C global warming are Oman, India, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil."

Another team explored the long-term impacts of global warming on coastal communities, concluding that even if the goals of the Paris agreement are met within this century, "potential impacts continue to grow for centuries" and "therefore, adaptation remains essential in densely populated and economically important coastal areas under climate stabilization."

The release of these studies follows findings, published last month in Environmental Research Letters, that limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels—rather than 2°C—could save the homes of an estimated 5 million people.

While this estimated difference in impact on coastal homes was considered stark by some experts, the broader takeaway from both that report and the studies published Monday is that meeting the goals outlined in the Paris agreement will not be enough to spare many millions of people from the consequences of the global climate crisis.

"People think the Paris Agreement is going to save us from harm from climate change," the earlier study's lead author, DJ Rasmussen, said in a statement. "But we show that even under the best-case climate policy being considered today, many places will still have to deal with rising seas and more frequent coastal floods."

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