A new climate reality: Less warming, but worse impacts on the planet – The Washington Post

by | Jan 6, 2023 | Climate Change

Comment on this storyCommentGift ArticleIn the not-so-distant past, scientists predicted that global temperatures would surge dramatically throughout this century, assuming that humans would rely heavily on fossil fuels for decades. But they are revising their forecasts as they track both signs of progress and unexpected hazards.Accelerating solar and wind energy adoption means global warming probably will not reach the extremes once feared, climate scientists say. At the same time, recent heat, storms and ecological disasters prove, they say, that climate change impacts could be more severe than predicted even with less warming.Researchers are increasingly worried about the degree to which even less-than-extreme increases in global temperatures will intensify heat and storms, irreversibly destabilize natural systems and overwhelm even highly developed societies. Extremes considered virtually impossible not long ago are already occurring.AdvertisementScientists pointed to recent signs of societies’ fragility: drought contributing to the Arab Spring uprisings; California narrowly avoiding widespread blackouts amid record-high temperatures; heat waves killing tens of thousands of people each year, including in Europe, the planet’s most developed continent.It’s an indication that — even with successful efforts to reduce emissions and limit global warming — these dramatic swings could devastate many stable societies sooner, and more often, than previously expected.“We see already that extremes are bringing about catastrophe,” said Claudia Tebaldi, an earth scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. “The question is: How are we going to possibly adapt and lower the risk by turning the dial of what we can control?”AdvertisementAnd researchers are watching closely to see if the planet is approaching — or even passing — tipping points in climate change: thresholds of ice loss or deforestation that would be so consequential, they would make cascading harms unavoidable.Sign up for the latest news about climate change, energy and the environment, delivered every Thursday“People are already dying of climate change right now,” said Sonia Seneviratne, a professor at ETH Zurich’s Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Switzerland. “We have started to see events at near-zero probability of happening without human-induced climate change.”‘Good news’: Worst-case warming appears less direThe latest forecasts suggest Earth’s ever-thickening blanket of greenhouse gases has it on a path to warm by more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 — a threshold scientists and policymakers have emphasized as one that would usher in catastrophic effects.AdvertisementThat is despite efforts to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius through the global treaty known as the Paris agreement, signed at a U.N. climate change conference in 2015. An October report from the United Nations found that if countries uphold even their most aggressive pledges to reduce output of climate change-inducing greenhouse gases, the planet would warm 2.4 degrees Celsius (4.3 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.But the latest projections of warming nevertheless show humanity has made progress at reining in some of its planet-warming emissions, scientists said.One scenario laid out in a 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and called “business as usual” — predicting global emissions and warming without any policy intervention and continued adoption of coal-fired power — had suggested global temperature would rise as much as 5 degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels by the end of this century. The likelihood of such sustained and rapid warming now appears remote.Advertisement“I think that’s good news,” Tebaldi said.Dangerous new hot zones are spreading around the worldClimate scientists credit the rapid adoption of renewable energy — solar and wind power accounted for 1.7 percent of global electricity generation in 2010, and 8.7 percent of it in 2020. The world is set to add as much renewable energy generation in the next five years as it did in the past two decades, the International Energy Agency predicted in a report released this month.If energy transformations continue and technologies such as carbon sequestration become viable, climate models sugges …

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