Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Three Gentoo penguins on top of an iceberg at Yellow Point Beach on January 1, 2020 in King George Island, Antarctica.

Three Gentoo penguins on top of an iceberg at Yellow Point Beach on January 1, 2020 in King George Island, Antarctica. (Photo: Alessandro Dahan/Getty Images)

Study Warns of 'Rapid and Unstoppable' Sea Level Rise If World Misses Paris Climate Targets

"Once you put enough heat into the climate system, you are going to lose those ice shelves, and once that is set in motion you can't reverse it."

Jake Johnson

A new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature warns that if the world's governments fail to meet warming targets set by the Paris climate accord, sea level rise from the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet will accelerate at a "rapid and unstoppable" rate in the coming decades.

Authored by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the new paper finds that if planetary warming continues at its current rate—which is headed toward 3° Celsius above pre-industrial levels—Antarctic melting will reach a tipping point by 2060, beyond which the consequences would be "irreversible on multi-century timescales."

"If we did nothing at all to reduce emissions we could get five meters of sea level rise just from Antarctica by 2200, at which point you'd have to remap the world from space. It would be unimaginable."
—Robert DeConto, University of Massachusetts Amherst
"If the world warms up at a rate dictated by current policies we will see the Antarctic system start to get away from us around 2060," Robert DeConto, the lead author of the study, told The Guardian. "Once you put enough heat into the climate system, you are going to lose those ice shelves, and once that is set in motion you can't reverse it."

"It's really the next few decades that will determine the sea level rise from Antarctica," DeConto added. "These ice shelves won't be able to just grow back."

The researchers find that if the most optimistic Paris goal of no more than 1.5° Celsius of warming by the end of the century is met, the Antarctic ice sheet would contribute around six centimeters of sea level rise by 2100.

"But if the current course toward 3 degrees is maintained, the model points to a major jump in melting," the study warns. "Unless ambitious action to rein in warming begins by 2060, no human intervention, including geoengineering, would be able to stop 17 to 21 centimeters of sea-level rise from Antarctic ice melt alone by 2100."

Under a scenario in which no further action is taken to limit planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, the research paper finds, Antarctic melting would contribute a "globally catastrophic" 10 meters or more to sea level rise by 2300.

"If we did nothing at all to reduce emissions we could get five meters of sea level rise just from Antarctica by 2200, at which point you'd have to remap the world from space," said DeConto. "It would be unimaginable."

The study comes days after U.S. President Joe Biden hosted a climate summit with 40 world leaders to discuss ways to bring the world into line with Paris warming targets. Biden, for his part, pledged to cut U.S. emissions at least 50% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade—a goal climate activists slammed as nowhere near sufficient.

"Science and justice demand that we reduce emissions by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 on the road to zero emissions by mid-century," Janet Redman of Greenpeace USA said last month. "The White House can get this done by removing government subsidies to fossil fuel companies, investing in an equitable and sustainable economic recovery, and stopping fishy carbon offset deals."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Trump's CIA Considered Kidnapping or Assassinating Assange: Report

"The Biden administration must drop its charges against Assange immediately."

Jake Johnson ·


'Carrying Water for Big Corporations': Sinema Faces Backlash for Opposing Tax Hikes

"Make no mistake, if she sides with her wealthy donors and kills popular investments to jump-start the economy, everyday families—including across Arizona—will pay the price."

Jake Johnson ·


UN Chief Warns Humanity Is 'Unacceptably Close to Nuclear Annihilation'

"Now is the time to lift the cloud of nuclear conflict for good," United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said ahead of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

Jake Johnson ·


Coalition Slams UN Food Summit for Peddling 'Corporate-Led False Solutions' to Hunger

"The U.N. has finally made it clear what 'multilateralism' is all about—paying lip service to the people while skewing priorities for the interests of imperialists and monopoly capitalists."

Jake Johnson ·


'Political Malpractice': House Democrats' Bill Wouldn't Add Dental to Medicare Until 2028

"I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed," Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a recent press call.

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo