Wednesday, 15 August, 2018

Study warns of looming potential for runaway global warming

Scientists say humanity may only have a few years to save itself from disaster Scientists say humanity may only have a few years to save itself from disaster
Kristen Harrington | 07 August, 2018, 20:34

That's the alarming warning from an global team of scientists, including Australian National University professor Will Steffen, in a study published on Tuesday.

According to the researchers, even if the carbon emission reduction targets set out by the Paris Agreement are met, there is a risk we could still enter "hothouse Earth" conditions.

"It would be a planet where large parts of the Arab regions would be inhabitable.

Global average temperatures are now just over 1C above pre-industrial temperatures and rising at 0.17C each decade", added Professor Steffan.

With Arctic ice and glaciers melting away; increasingly powerful and frequent storms in the Atlantic and Pacific; coral reefs dying from warming oceans; record-setting wildfires in the US; unprecedented heatwaves in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere-climate researchers have been at the forefront of sounding the alarms about the frightening path humanity is now following.

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"Our study suggests that human-induced global warming of 2C may trigger other Earth system processes, often called "feedbacks", that can drive further warming - even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases".

If that happened, global average temperatures may reach up to five degrees above pre-industrial levels - the hottest temperatures experienced in more than 1.2 million years.

They warn it could lead to sea levels being between 10-60m higher than they are today - meaning that more land will be under water.

A group of researchers published a study recently that warns the Earth is at risk of pushing into a lasting and unsafe hothouse state.

"If we go past two degrees, then we risk triggering a cascade of these tipping points that could push us all the way to the hothouse earth..."

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The study, titled Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, says temperatures could hit the level needed to send the planet down the "Hothouse Earth" path in just a few decades.

"Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth toward another", said Johan Rockström, co-author of the report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. But according to the authors of the paper, the current plans to cut carbon may not be enough if their analysis is correct.

These include the degrading of the biosphere, permafrost thaw, and loss of Arctic summer sea ice, all possibilities when temperatures rise.

The worry is that if one of these systems tips over and starts pushing large amounts of Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the rest could follow like a row of dominoes.

Scientists have warned that Earth's global temperature is just one degree away from a climatic tipping point that threatens the future of humanity. "It may be very hard or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over", Professor Steffen said.

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The impacts on arguably Australia's most notable natural attraction, the Great Barrier Reef, would be severe.

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