There is a famous quote by Canadian author J.R. Rim, which goes something like “Every second that goes by is a point of no return.” There is that persistent feeling we may be doing exactly that with Earth. And it doesn’t make for pleasant reading now. And it won’t make for a comfortable existence at some point in the near future. Researchers, in a paper published in Nature, have found that we are now likely warming up the earth by 1.5 degree Celsius, even if we don’t if we don’t build a single new power plant, factory, vehicle, or buy a new home appliance.
Incidentally, the 1.5 degree is also the higher limit proposed by the Paris Agreement back in 2017. This is an agreement ratified by 147 countries, and it aims to limit the global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius, with attempts to keep it to 1.5 degrees or lesser. Researchers Dan Tong, Qiang Zhang, Yixuan Zheng, Ken Caldeira, Christine Shearer, Chaopeng Hong, Yue Qin and Steven J. Davis say, “we estimate that, if operated as historically, existing infrastructure will emit about 658 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 (ranging from 226 to 1,479 Gt CO2 depending on assumed lifetimes and utilization rates). More than half of these emissions are projected to come from the electricity sector, and infrastructure in China, the USA and the EU28 countries represent approximately 41 per cent, 9 per cent and 7 per cent of the total, respectively.”
The research has given us a glimpse of what is in store, if the earth continues to heat up. It says that 1.5 ˚C of warming could already be enough to expose 14% of the global population to bouts of severe heat. This would also melt nearly 2 million square miles (5 million square kilometres) of Arctic permafrost, and destroy more than 70% of the world’s coral reefs. If earth has to make the jump to 2 degree Celsius of heating up, three times as many people would be subjected to heat waves, more than 40% additional permafrost will be melted and will wipe out coral reefs. This is when fractions of a degree truly tell you how damaging temperature increase may be.
The researchers also warn that earth doesn’t have much headroom now to play with. “Nevertheless, our emission estimates suggest that little or no additional CO2-emitting infrastructure can be commissioned, and that infrastructure retirements that are earlier than historical ones (or retrofits with carbon capture and storage technology) may be necessary, in order to meet the Paris Agreement climate goals,” they say.