If climate goals are meant to protect us from ‘significant harm,’ then they aren’t good enough, scientists say

The world has been concentrating on keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels for years. However, even at that level, which might start to be crossed within the next five years, millions of people will still experience “significant harm,” such as death, displacement, and a lack of food and water, according to a report released on Wednesday by an international panel of researchers.

The panel of more than a dozen scholars combined climate science with environmental justice—the notion that climate thresholds should minimise major harm—in a study that was published in the journal Nature. They discovered that by using that measure, the planet has already crossed important thresholds, leaving less safe, livable room for life on Earth.

The scientists discovered that more than 200 million people could still be subjected to extreme heat and more than 500 million people would be subjected to long-term sea level rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, they claimed that the crucial climatic threshold—one that would guarantee a “safe and just” world—that countries committed to achieving in the 2015 Paris Agreement should have been 1 degree Celsius.

However, the average temperature of the earth has already risen to 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which has already resulted in catastrophic and devastating changes to the climate and weather, including more intense heat waves, floods, and wildfires that have changed the terrain.

According to Johan Rockström, the study’s primary author, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and co-chair of the Earth Commission, “science is demonstrating clearly that we are at risk of destabilising the entire planet and its life support systems.”

He compared the study to a doctor’s visit and said that the prescription is “a list of quantitative safe and just boundary conditions that you have to live within to be able to cure yourself.” “Unfortunately, the doctor will tell you that we are moving in the wrong direction on basically all of these living components that build up this complex, adaptive, self-regulating system,” he told reporters.

According to Joyeeta Gupta, a co-author on the study and an environmental researcher at the University of Amsterdam, climate science has historically looked at the conditions needed to maintain the planet’s stability but excluded justice as a key component. This is despite the fact that previous scientific efforts to define Earth’s boundaries have been powerful and compelling.

“We argue that there is no safe planet without justice,” Gupta added, highlighting how adding justice to the Earth system’s boundaries lessens serious harm to both communities and individuals.

According to Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at Brown University who was not involved in the study but was a lead author on the most recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the research is a “worthy attempt” to identify and quantify the human toll associated with various levels of environmental degradation, such as climate change, water availability, and biodiversity.

“This paper highlights the human costs of the emission choices we are making every single year – costs that will extend many generations into the future, when we do not move to enact emissions in line with the most ambitious targets,” Cobb told CNN. Additionally, research “gives climate justice advocates more ammunition as policymakers seek to better understand how continued warming will exacerbate existing climate injustices across regions and over the course of the next decades to centuries.”

As climatic thresholds are crossed and the planet continues to warm, scientists are urging governments, corporations, and lawmakers to treat the situation more seriously.

The goal of this work, according to Gupta, “was to try and demonstrate that there is already significant damage at 1 degrees, and that this is more just than a 1.5-degree target.” We want to make sure that nations treat this matter seriously.

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