UK News Climate change: How the world will actually change under 1.5C, 2C, and 3+C of warming

08:30  26 october  2021
08:30  26 october  2021 Source:   msn.com

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Climate change is too often billed as a problem for the future. But average temperatures have already risen by more than one degree Celsius since pre-Industrial times, bringing fiercer storms, raging wildfires, enduring droughts and extreme floods to today’s world.

Next week global leaders will arrive in Glasgow to discuss how to stop global temperatures spiralling even further. It is too late to stop climate change from happening. But scientists agree swift action to reduce emissions can prevent the worst impacts.

Nations have already agreed to limit warming to “well below” two degrees, and to aim for 1.5C. But what will it mean, in real terms, if the world hits or misses these targets?

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Scenario One: 1.5C of warming

Given global average temperatures are already 1.1 degrees above pre-Industrial levels, limiting further increases to 1.5C is seen by most scientists as a ‘best case’ climate scenario.

Yet even 1.5C of warming will impact millions of people around the world, a panel of the world’s top scientists concluded in 2018.

Under this level of warming, sea levels are expected to rise by almost half a metre by the end of the century thanks to melting ice caps. The weather will become increasingly extreme: droughts will last an extra two months on average, while rainfall will become two per cent more intense. Marine heatwaves will become more common, decimating ocean life – coral reefs alone are expected to decline by around 80 per cent. Wildfires will become fiercer, covering 41 per cent more ground during the average European summer.

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This will have economic and social consequences. Annual flood damage loss from sea level rise will reach $10.2tr, while global GDP per capita will be eight per cent lower in 2100 than without additional climate change. By 2100 crop yields of maize are expected to drop by six per cent, with wheat harvests down five per cent, leaving millions more people suffering from hunger.

For the UK, scientists expect the impacts to be comparatively mild. There will be, on average, six fewer days of winter frost each year, while 65 more people could die from heat stress in a typical London summer. UK residents can expect to suffer an extra ‘tropical night’, when temperatures do not fall below 20C. Increased rainfall intensity will bring the biggest costs, with economic losses due to river flooding expected to jump more than 1,200 per cent above today’s levels.

Scenario Two: 2C of warming

When it comes to climate change, even a fraction of a degree matters. “Climate change is primarily a problem of degrees rather than thresholds,” stresses Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist and energy systems analyst. He warns against treating climate targets as if they are “points of no return”.

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But as temperatures rise, impacts escalate. Two degrees of warming is a much worse outcome than 1.5C, scientists agree.

Although average sea level rise remains manageable at 56cm by the end of the century, under two degrees of warming coral reefs will almost certainly be completely exterminated by rising ocean temperatures with devastating impacts for marine life. The chances of an ice-free Arctic Ocean during the summer rise to roughly once every decade. As the reflective white ice melts, Earth will absorb more heat from the sun, accelerating warming.

Droughts last an extra four months on average, rainfall intensity increases by four per cent, and European wildfires burn 67 per cent more land each summer than they do now. Crop yields of maize and wheat are set to be down nine per cent and four per cent respectively by the end of the decade. The animal kingdom starts to seriously suffer, with up to 20 per cent insects and invertebrates losing more than 50 per cent of their habitable range.

As one might expect, the costs are higher too. Global GDP per capita is down 13 per cent by the end of the century, compared to a scenario where there is no additional warming.

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The impacts are not distributed evenly around the globe. Brazil is set to see more than double the increase in the number of excess deaths due to heat compared to Canada, West Africa will see a 753 per cent increase in extreme heat compared to a 187 per cent increase for Northern Asia. In Southern Europe, more than a third of the population will have less water than they need, while wheat yields will fall by 12 per cent. By comparison, Northern Europe will become wetter, and enjoy a five per cent boost to wheat yields.

Scenario Three: Three degrees or more of warming

Beyond two degrees of warming, the science starts to become more uncertain as rising temperatures start to trigger planetary ‘tipping points’ that kick off runaway, permanent climate change. The melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet, for example, could spark sea level rise of 1.6 metres or more, reshaping ocean currents, tropical weather systems and polar climates.

There are nine tipping points generally cited by scientists, which alongside the melting of ice sheets include the collapse of the Amazon rainforest and the thawing of permafrost. Scientists used to warn that the Earth would be in danger of breaching these tipping points at five degrees or more of warming. But recent research suggests those crucial thresholds could in fact be much closer to the two-degree limit set out in the Paris Agreement, or may even have been breached already.

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“The further we push the climate beyond the bounds of where it has been in the last few million years, which we have done when we get above three degrees, the bigger the risk of unknown unknowns,” says Dr Hausfather. “The further we push the system past three degrees, the bigger the risk.”

So there are still significant unanswered questions about what a three or four degree world looks like. However, some studies shed some light on what it could hold in store. More than a quarter of the world’s population would be exposed to extreme drought conditions for at least one month a year. Swathes of farmland in Africa and Asia would become submerged by rising seas. Temperatures of 43C or more could be a regular occurrence in the British city of Cambridge, while parts of the Gulf become so hot they are unlivable.

It is unclear whether existing political and economic structures will be able to cope with such seismic shifts. Rising sea levels could force mass migration across continents, while collapsing harvests could push food prices sky high. Societies – even relatively stable Western democracies like the UK, could break down. In 2017, the CEO of insurance giant AXA warned a 4C world would be “uninsurable”.

Biden shows willingness to confront China on climate during global summits .
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