According to a new study, the threshold for dangerous global warming will likely be crossed in as soon as 5 years, between 2027 and 2042- a much narrower window than the IPCC’s estimate of between now and 2052.
What is Happening?
- The study, published in Climate Dynamics, used a new and more precise way to project the planet’s temperature, using historical data to reduce uncertainties compared to previous approaches, according to the research team at McGill University. Co-author Raphael Hebert, a former graduate researcher at McGill University, now working at the Alfred-Wegener-Institut in Potsdam, Germany, says, “Our approach allows climate sensitivity and its uncertainty to be estimated from direct observations with few assumptions.”
- This new model, called the Scaling Climate Response Function (SCRF), is able to reduce prediction uncertainties by about half. Using this model, the researchers found that the threshold for dangerous global warming (+1.5C) will likely be crossed in as soon as 5 years, between 2027 and 2042.
- While scientists have long been making projections of future global warming, there have been concerns as to the accuracy of the climate models used. Climate models are mathematical simulations of different factors that influence climate, such as the atmosphere, ocean, ice, land surface and the sun. While they are based on the best understanding of the planet’s systems, when it comes to forecasting the future, uncertainties remain.
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Co-author Bruno Tremblay, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at McGill University, says, “Climate skeptics have argued that global warming projections are unreliable because they depend on faulty supercomputer models. While these criticisms are unwarranted, they underscore the need for independent and different approaches to predicting future warming.”
- Until now, wide ranges in overall temperature projections have made it difficult to pinpoint outcomes in different mitigation scenarios. For example, the General Circulation Models (GCMs) used by the IPCC predict a very likely global average temperature increase between 1.9 and 4.5C, which is a massive range that encompasses moderate climate changes on the lower end, but catastrophic changes on the other. It is clear that more precise models are needed, or it will be difficult to use them to inform policymakers on the best course of action to tackle climate change.
Co-author Shaun Lovejoy, a professor in the Physics Department at McGill University, says, “Now that governments have finally decided to act on climate change, we must avoid situations where leaders can claim that even the weakest policies can avert dangerous consequences. With our new climate model and its next generation improvements, there’s less wiggle room.”
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