Mitigation, adaptation needed
The rapid pace of climate change, Field said, "really sets a schedule by which adaptation changes need to be made." That includes such moves as flood protection and building different kinds of structures.
Some of the changes to the planet cannot be stopped because the temperature increase is unavoidable. But the scientists emphasized that people do have the ability to affect the severity of the shifts.
To hold the temperature increase to about 1.5 degrees, the globe would need to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, and then have negative emissions, meaning "the sum of all human activities is a net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere," the study says. If that happens, changes by the end of the century will be less severe, Field said.
But it will require transitioning away from fossil-fuel-based infrastructure over the next few decades, he said. If fossil fuels are burned after that, he said, it will have to be with the capture of carbon pollution.
There are many obstacles to this outcome, the Stanford paper says.
"Demand for energy-enabled improvement in human well-being creates additional inertia, particularly given that 1.3 billion people currently lack reliable access to electricity, and 2.6 billion people rely on biomass for cooking," it says. "The political process provides further inertia, both because emissions continue as political negotiations take place and because mitigation proposals are built around gradual emissions reductions that guarantee further emissions even if such proposals are eventually adopted."
If greenhouse gases are removed and temperatures rise less, that will only shrink the pace of change.
"Even with aggressive mitigation, the changes are substantial," Field said, "and they're still very fast."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500