Climate emergency: The new science showing it’s make-or-break time

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As climate talks ramp up ahead of the crucial COP26 meeting in Glasgow, new research on what our carbon emissions are doing to the planet paints a disturbing picture



Environment



21 April 2021

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Pete Reynolds

SHALL we start with the good news or the bad news? The good news is that the world has made some progress in cutting the carbon emissions driving climate change. The bad news is that it is by no means enough, and emerging research suggests that the impact of the emissions we are pumping into the atmosphere could be even greater than we feared.

“The science, if anything, has become more pessimistic,” says Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the University of Potsdam, Germany. “The signs from the science are pointing towards more urgent climate action being needed.”

To have a chance of averting catastrophe, we must get to “net-zero” emissions – where we are putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere no more quickly than Earth’s natural processes or yet-to-be-developed technologies can remove them – in less than three decades.

Most countries haven’t yet got credible plans to produce the sort of emissions cuts needed, let alone to implement them. The question then becomes: how bad could it get if we fail to take the drastic action required now?

The fate of much life on the planet depends on three main factors. First, how much more CO2 we add to the atmosphere. Second, how the planet changes in response to all that extra CO2: how much it will warm the planet, and its impact on sea level rise and extreme weather. Third, how well we prepare for the coming changes.

Of these factors, by far the most important is how much CO2 we are emitting. This is what is causing climate change and it is …

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