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Climate Change: Why we could see a terrible rise in global temperatures in just 50 years

New research, using AI to assess current climate data, predicts that the world could pass a catastrophic temperature threshold in just fifty years

A low lying city like Venice could soon be permanently submerged.(AFP)

By Bibek Bhattacharya

LAST PUBLISHED 03.02.2023  |  02:08 PM IST

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The United Nations’ international body on climate science, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), is easily the most authoritative institution on global heating. However, it has often been criticized for erring on the side of caution when releasing its periodic assessments on future forecasts of global warming. While it can be suspected that the intricacies of international consensus could have more than a little to do with this, the fact remains that even the most conservative estimates state that the world is fast running out of time to limit global temperature rise to 1.5-2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial times by 2100.

A temperature rise of 2 degree Celsius is the threshold that needs to be avoided at all cost. The IPCC is extremely clear on this. At that level of warming, several planetary systems would surpass certain ‘tipping points’ that would lead to runaway climate change. These tipping points include large-scale melting of Antarctic ice, disappearance of snow and ice from the Himalaya, perennial rivers like the Ganga becoming seasonal or large-scale die-off of global forests. And a huge rise in global climate disasters. When it comes to our planet’s climate system, every fraction of a degree Celsius counts.

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Currently the world has already heated up by 1.1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels due to the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon and methane. Current atmospheric CO2 and methane levels are at a historic high, and while the need of the hour is to drastically cut fresh emissions by switching from oil, gas and coal-based energy to renewable energy, nations around the world—especially big emitters like the US, China, EU—are lagging woefully in working in this direction. Recently the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) predicted that global temperatures will temporarily reach 1.5 degrees of warming in the next five years.

While governments and fossil fuel companies play for time—oil giant Shell caused massive outrage recently by posting record profits of $40 billion, its highest in 115 years—new research is emerging that there is a high probability that global temperatures will surpass the 1.5 degree threshold in the 2030s. More alarmingly, the planet’s temperature might breach the dreaded 2 degrees Celsius mark in the next fifty years.

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This is basically the gist of an analysis published by climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh from Stanford University and atmospheric scientist Elizabeth Barnes from Colorado state University. For the study, Data-driven Predictions Of The Time Remaining Until Critical Global Warming Thresholds Are Reached, they use an Artificial Intelligence neural network to predict future climate change on the basis of current scientific data. The AI prediction paints a grim picture of the world reaching the 1.5 degree threshold by 2033-35 and a 75% chance of reaching the 2 degree threshold by 2065. 

This finding is predicated on the world reaching net zero emissions in another fifty years from now. The IPCC has called on world governments to ensure that net zero is reached by 2050, but unless a breakthrough is made soon, the chances of this coming to pass is only by about 2070. The researchers warn that by then there will be enough heating already locked in to take the world past 2 degrees of heating. “Our AI model is quite convinced that there has already been enough warming that 2 C is likely to be exceeded if reaching net-zero emissions takes another half century," said Diffenbaugh in a statement. The world’s governments, especially the rich countries that are responsible for the majority of the emissions, need to get their act together soon. 

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