The scientific consensus says that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is our best bet to save the planet and all its inhabitants from the worst effects of climate change. This objective, enshrined in the Paris Agreement, seems increasingly unattainable as greenhouse gas emissions remain unchecked.
In fact, it probably isn’t possible to achieve it, says a team of scientists who have examined the social drivers of climate change. They argue that a primary reason is that “consumption patterns and corporate responses are delaying urgently needed climate protection measures”.
“In fact, when it comes to climate protection, some things have already been implemented. But if you look at the development of social processes in detail, keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees is still not plausible.”, says Anita Engels, professor of the Excellence Group at Universität Hamburg.
Main factors to limit global warming
While factors such as climate legislation and fossil fuel divestment will support efforts to meet climate targets, they will not be enough to help us stay within the 1.5 degree threshold. “The required deep decarbonisation is simply progressing too slowly”, observes Engels.
Importantly, the global economic recovery after a recession precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is largely dependent on fossil fuels, which will keep emissions high.
In addition, physical processes such as continued loss of Arctic sea ice, deforestation in the Amazon, and permafrost melting are also driving climate change, although they had little influence on global temperatures until mid-century.
“The fact is that these dreaded tipping points can drastically change conditions for life on Earth, but they are irrelevant to achieving the temperature targets of the Paris Agreement.”, explains Jochem Marotzke, professor at the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology.
In the absence of climate targets, we will have to focus on embracing climate change. “If we fail climate targets, adapting to impacts will be even more importantsays Engels.
“To be prepared for a warmer world, we need to anticipate changes, involve affected parties and leverage local knowledge. Instead of just reacting, we must begin active transformation here and now.”, emphasizes.