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What Will Happen If the Temperature of the Earth Continues to Rise?

Image is courtesy of National Resources Defense Council.

When you think about climate change, what comes to your mind? The warming of Earth? An increase in global temperature? Glaciers melting? Endangered polar bears?

The climate crisis has become a more well-known topic in mainstream media, especially with the rise of youth activism and the significant impact. Many people understand that climate change is a present and prevalent issue. Reputable sources have explained that we only have a limited time to reverse the effects of climate change. In 2018, the United Nations warned us that we have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe.

Why do we only have until 2030? What happens in 2030 if we do not decrease the rising global temperature? How much of an effect can 1.5˚C have on the Earth?

Why do we only have until 2030?

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that limiting global warming to an increase of 1.5-degree Celsius (2.6 degrees Fahrenheit) to the end of the century would help us decrease the worst impacts of climate change. As they emphasize, to do this “would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” We’re unable to stop climate change right now because part of it is natural and already occurring. To prevent the global temperature from rising to 1.5˚C before the century ends (2100), we have to change our pattern of behaviour. Scientists have estimated we need to limit carbon emissions by high percentages before 2030. This does not mean we are aiming to solve climate change by 2030. In the IPCC report, they said, “Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.” Other CO2 emissions would have to be removed from the air.

Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics, but doing so would require unprecedented changes.

- Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III

Failing to reach the reduction target by 2030 does not mean doomsday, but rather a more likely chance we would hit 1.5˚C by 2100, causing more climate catastrophes in the future. Researchers chose 2030 because they saw it as a reasonable date to reach the reduction rate without having overbearing effects on the economy and relying on carbon-capturing technologies further in the future.

Why is the reduction target 1.5°C?

Throughout the articles and climate policies of the IPCC, they have mentioned the reduction target of 1.5˚C. But why specifically 1.5˚C? The temperature between morning and night has a more significant change than this. Katharine Mach, a climate scientist at the University of Miami and one of the several lead authors of the IPCC report explains this.

We know that the risks go up [as temperature rises]. We’re already experiencing widespread impacts of the changing climate.

Mach also pointed to the continual consequences of 2019’s 1˚C (1.8˚F) of warming above pre-industrial levels.

It will be greater at 1.5 degrees of warming, and may go up from there in some very substantial ways … with severe, irreversible impacts.

If we can limit the rising of global temperature to 1.5˚C, we would reduce the number of people frequently exposed to extreme heat waves by about 420 million, with about 65 million fewer people exposed to exceptional heatwaves. On top of that, this limit would reduce the probability of droughts and risk of decreased water availability, especially in developing regions. On the other hand, some places will face extreme precipitation leading to more flooding and tropical cyclones. As stated in a Live Science article, “Holding the world to a 1.5˚C warming increase by the end of the century creates much more manageable short- and long-term problems than holding it to 2˚C of warming [and so on].”

Current and future effects of climate change

Around the world, we’ve already started seeing the effects of climate change with floods, droughts, increased precipitation, more extreme natural disasters, and the extinction rate shooting up - to name a few. In Bangladesh in 2020, during their regular monsoon season, one-quarter of the country was underwater. “Nearly 1.3 million homes were damaged, hundreds of thousands of people were marooned, and hundreds died,” as stated on ReliefWeb.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, climate change will result in rising sea levels that “could impact 1 billion people by the year 2050.” There would be an ice-free arctic, destroying habitats of arctic species and causing us to lose our freshwater reservoirs. Flooding risk would be increased by 100% as global warming increases the risk of higher precipitation levels, leading to flooding. Heatwaves will become “more frequent and severe globally, affecting hundreds of millions—or even billions—of people if we don’t act.” Plants and animals would also be at risk of losing more than half of their habitats; when temperatures increase, particular crucial habitats may be no longer habitable for species. These species can become endangered if they cannot adapt or move to another habitat, ultimately affecting an entire ecosystem that they were a part of.

Why should we care?

Often, when we look at the larger scheme of the world, we might think that we as one person out of over 7 billion people won’t make a difference. But when billions of people believe this, we’re unable to move forward. Even though most catastrophes will occur after 2100, all of us still see and are impacted by climate change in our lifetime. Whether that may be experiencing a natural disaster, like the extreme snowstorms in Texas, heat waves, or decreased water accessibility, we should also keep in mind that those with lower socioeconomic status, like those living in developing countries, are also negatively affected. If you want to learn how to take personal action, please read this article on How to be a Steward for the Environment.

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Article Author: Kelley Liang

Article Editors: Victoria Huang, Edie Whittington