2015 marked the creation of the Paris climate agreement, which brought the world together with the collective goal of preventing global temperatures from reaching 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Since the deal’s passing we’ve seen study after report after newscast claiming that our chances of achieving that goal are woefully, depressingly slim (*1). President Trump dealt the agreement – and the world – a crippling blow earlier this year when he chose to withdraw the United States from the deal. The abysmal devastation seen by the southern US and many Caribbean Islands from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose have only added to the general feeling of doom and gloom about the world’s prospects in the face of climate change.
When a recent study was released, claiming that achieving the goals set by the Paris climate agreement are actually well within the realm of possibility for our planet, I, for one, had to read it twice. In fact, this study, which revisits the data proposed in the Fifth IPCC Assessment Report, asserts that even the stretch goal of preventing global temperatures from rising to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, is attainable! (*2) Hearing even remotely upbeat news on anything relating to climate change is rather rare. When I read this study I felt downright jubilant for the planet!
It’s important to note, though, that as relieving as it is to know that we’ve got a shot at heading off reaching the critical tipping point for climate change, this study is no “get out of jail free” card for us. According to climate scientist Myles Allen of Oxford University, “It’s the difference between beting not doable and being just doable.” (*3) So, here’s the rub: we can achieve the most optimistic targets laid out by the Paris climate deal, but it will require a doubling-down on the carbon emissions reductions targets determined by participating nations. If we are able to instate what the study calls an “ambitious mitigation scenario” immediately, by the year 2030 we could see peak warming peak anywhere from 1.2 – 2 degrees Celsius.(*2) Clearly, there’s no guarantee that, even with our best efforts, we can easily sail under the bar of that 1.5 degree stretch goal. But, what’s reassuring to know is that we’ve got a shot at it.
Nonetheless, the key takeaways here are still net-positive. It’s an easier psychological feat to work towards a goal that is technically feasible, as opposed to one that’s been deemed a “geophysical impossibility.” We must make the collective decision to take this news as a challenge to redouble our efforts to limit carbon emissions over coming decades. If we do, we just might see a future where good news about the fight against climate change isn’t quite so rare.