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Limiting global warming to 1.5 °C may still be possible

Jeff Tollefson

Analysis suggests that researchers have underestimated how much carbon humanity can emit before reaching this level of warming.

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A team of climate scientists has delivered a rare bit of good news: it could be easier than previously thought to limit global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, as called for in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. But even if the team is right — and some researchers are already questioning the conclusions — heroic efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions will still be necessary to limit warming. [...]
“The Paris goal of 1.5 °C is not impossible — it’s just very, very difficult,” says lead author Richard Millar, a climate researcher at the University of Oxford, UK.

Debate rages on. The work is receiving mixed reviews. Some argue that the analysis is fundamentally flawed, because it centres on a period of slower warming that began around the turn of the millennium. [...] The team’s estimate for the amount of warming that humans have caused so far — 0.93 °C — could thus be artificially low, because it calculates the human contribution to warming during this cooler time, says Ben Sanderson, a climate modeller at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. At the same time, he says, the oceans and the land were probably absorbing more carbon than normal during this period. Natural processes will eventually dump some of that back into the atmosphere, thus reducing the amount of carbon that humanity can emit before reaching 1.5°C. [...]
But Millar and his colleagues argue that the effects of the hiatus would be minimal. The team used multiple methodologies to estimate the actual warming due to greenhouse gases, independent of short-term climate variability. [...] In all cases, Millar says, the amount of carbon that humans could emit before Earth warms to that 1.5 °C threshold is larger than previously estimated. [...]


Nature (18 September 2017), https://doi.org/10.1038/nature.2017.22627 
Key: INRMM:14434120

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