Twelve. That’s how many years scientists predict are left to further prevent the consequences of climate change, before each half degree leads to worsening conditions, including risks of drought, floods, and extreme heat, according to UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Devastating hurricanes in the U.S., record droughts in Cape Town, and forest fires in the Arctic are already revealing the current effects of global warming, the IPCC report says, warning that every fraction of additional warming could worsen the impact.
The change caused by just half a degree is evident; “We can see there is a difference and it’s substantial,” Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the working group on impacts, tells The Guardian.
Oceans are already suffering from elevated acidity and lower levels of oxygen as a result of climate change, and the Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the world average. IPCC warns that reforestation and the adoption of carbon capture technology are vital to prevent further effects. The goal is to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C, something IPCC says is not only feasible and affordable, but attainable, as long as the public and governments support the initiative.
“We have presented governments with pretty hard choices. We have pointed out the enormous benefits of keeping to 1.5C, and also the unprecedented shift in energy systems and transport that would be needed to achieve that,” said Jim Skea, a co-chair of the working group on mitigation. “We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it.”
However, much work is to be done, with even pro-Paris deal nations involved in fossil fuel extraction, Britain pushing ahead with gas fracking, Norway continuing oil exploration in the Arctic, and the German government’s plans to tear down Hambach forest to dig for coal.
The role of global wealth and geoengineering
Adam Heller, a longtime ECS member and professor of engineering at the University of Texas, spoke to this in 2015 at the The ECS Lecture at the 228th ECS Meeting in Phoenix, AZ, saying that global warming is a result of people not conserving energy, not using enough solar energy, and following a carbon tax.
“People are consuming more and more energy,” says Heller. “And it’s important to understand drivers and counter drivers of global warming,” stating that the increase in global wealth as a major driver of global warming.
Heller explains that energy conservation and the use of renewable energy sources counter-balance only 9% of the global wealth associated rise in atmospheric CO2, as a consequence the rise in atmospheric CO2 is accelerating at 2% each year. On top of this, it could take decades to stop the acceleration and a century to steady the atmospheric CO2 level.
“By conserving energy and by shifting to renewable energy sources the United States succeeded in stabilizing its 1995-2015 CO2 emission, even though its wealth and population had grown,” says Heller, “but the level at which the U.S. stabilized its CO2 emission is still 3.5 times higher than the world’s average.”
Heller says, nevertheless, increasing the use of green energy technology like wind and solar energy are steps in the right direction.
More about Adam Heller
From lithium batteries to photoelectrochemistry to biomedical engineering, Adam Heller has immensely contributed to electrochemical engineering and the science of electrochemistry. He co-invented the painless blood glucose monitor, conceived the electrical wiring of redox enzymes, and applied these in continuous monitoring of glucose in diabetic people. His wired glucose oxidase forms the core of the most advanced, continuous glucose monitoring system for diabetes management. His work on healthcare-related electrochemical products had enormous societal and economic impact.
Learn more about Adam Heller as he is interviewed one-on-one for the ECS Masters series below.