THE global target to prevent climate catastrophe, crafted at a landmark summit last year in Paris, will be very difficult if not impossible to hit, said some of the world’s top scientists meeting this week in Oxford.
The first-ever climate pact to enjoin all nations vows to cap global warming at “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-Industrial Revolution levels—and under 1.5 C (2.7 F) if possible.
“Currently we only have a few scenarios that get us there, and they are outliers,” said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, a climate scientist at Institut Pierre Simon Laplace in Paris, said of the more ambitious goal.
All but a few of the hundreds of complex computer models plotting the rapid reduction of greenhouse gases that drive climate change, in other words, zoom right past it.
“The 1.5 C target took the scientific community by surprise,” said Jim Hall, director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford, which is hosting the three-day conference ending Thursday.
The question stretches back to the chaotic Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, which nearly derailed more than a decade of UN talks, set the threshold for dangerous global warming at 2 C.
A huge body of scientific literature has accumulated around that benchmark, feeding into periodic reports by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
But a recent crescendo of devastating impacts—heat waves, deadly flooding, storm surges fuelled by rising seas—pushed world leaders to inscribe even more demanding temperature targets in the Paris pact, inked by 195 nations in December.
The effort was led by small island nations, some of which are likely to disappear under the waves within decades.