Just Stopping Emissions May No Longer Be Enough to Stop Global Warming
Researchers argue that it’s time to invest in aggressive carbon capture
Earlier this year, the Earth saw a huge dip in carbon emissions as nations around the globe locked down to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It offered a glimpse into what the world might look like if we took drastic steps to reduce our carbon emissions to slow the spread of global warming: For a brief moment, smog-choked cities around the world had clear skies.
But according to a new modeling study published in Scientific Reports today, even if we made such drastic reductions permanent, it would still not be enough. The study suggests that if we stopped all human-made greenhouse gas emissions immediately, the Earth’s temperatures would continue to rise because of self-sustaining melting ice and permafrost. These “feedback loops” — in which melting ice causes less sunlight to be reflected back into space, which in turn raises temperatures and causes more ice melt — have already been set into motion, the researchers argue.
Humanity “is beyond the point-of-no-return when it comes to halt the melting of the permafrost using greenhouse gas cuts as the single tool,” Jørgen Randers, PhD, professor emeritus of climate strategy at BI Norwegian Business School and lead author of the study, tells Future Human in an email. That’s not to say we should give up on reducing emissions: Rather, Randers says that the world "should accelerate its effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions (in order to postpone as much as possible the temperature rise) and start developing the technologies for large scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.”
For decades, climate scientists have tried to predict the so-called tipping point at which it would be too late to stop global warming — too late to limit the amount the temperature rises, the amount of sea level rise, and the number of lives claimed by both and other climate-induced ecological disasters — through reducing carbon emissions alone. Climate scientists point to either 2030 or 2050 as deadlines for the world to get to zero emissions before runaway climate change kicks in. But according to the new study, no matter how much we reduce emissions now, warming will continue, and…