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Special Edition Magazine, Fall 2019: Sustainability

English

The Path to Climate Safety

The global toll from weather-related disasters in 2018 was more than $200 billion, and annual losses in the United States alone averaged around $100 billion during 2014-18. And the latest climate science tells us that there is much worse to come unless we abide by the 1.5ºC limit.

NEW YORK – The global climate agenda has been greatly clarified in recent years. We now know that Earth’s average temperature is on a path to increase by around 3º Celsius, relative to preindustrial levels, by 2100, which is twice the 1.5ºC limit targeted by the 2015 Paris climate agreement. We know that weather-related damage is rapidly mounting. We know that to stay below the 1.5ºC threshold, we need to reach zero net greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, with net negative emissions thereafter. And we know that reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 is feasible and affordable. All we lack is action.

The global toll from weather-related disasters in 2018 was more than $200 billion, and annual losses in the United States alone averaged around $100 billion during 2014-18. With insurance costs set to soar, the latest climate science tells us that there is much worse to come unless we abide by the 1.5ºC limit. To do that requires two main changes: a global energy system based on zero-carbon sources and a global food system that uses land and water sustainably.

Making these changes has become urgent amid signs of accelerating – perhaps even runaway – climate change. In recent decades, the Earth warmed by around 0.2ºC per decade. Yet the rate of warming has been above 0.3ºC per decade since 2013. Natural feedbacks are compounding human impact. Ominously, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have recently started to soar, possibly owing to the natural release of methane from warmer tropical wetlands. Projections indicate that dangerous feedbacks of methane release could greatly amplify human-induced warming this century.

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