It’s possible for the world to keep global warming from reaching a crisis point in the next 20 to 30 years — or sooner — but it would take an effort that’s unprecedented in human history.
That’s according to a report released Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a coalition of scientists brought together by the United Nations to advise world leaders on climate impacts.
The researchers found that if emissions of greenhouse gases continue at the current rate, the Earth’s temperature may hit a critical threshold sometime between 2030 and 2052.
Above that threshold of warming, 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), the scientists say the planet will experience even more days of extreme hot and cold weather. It will likely see “very frequent” mass die-offs of coral reefs, an increase in severe droughts that could force people and nations to compete for scarce water, and an increase in the number of people with homes and livelihoods at risk from sea-level rise as ice sheets continue to melt.
Scientists also said the worst impacts can still be prevented by dramatic global reductions in emissions of carbon dixoide and other greenhouse gases that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The speed and scale of those reductions would have to be unprecedented in human history. The report says to stay below the critical 1.5 degree Celsius threshold, the world would have to reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions in the next 30 or so years.
“It says we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime,” Myles Allen, an Oxford University climate scientist who worked on the report, told the New York Times.
At that scale, the transformation would likely need to include everything from taxes on carbon emissions to planting millions of trees to a massive increase in use of clean energy sources like wind and solar.
Here’s what else you need to know:
1.5 is better than 2
Much of the report focused on what will happen to the world at 1.5 degrees C of warming versus 2 degrees C. That half-degree could mean the difference between still having some coral reefs and losing the world’s coral reefs entirely.
“Two degrees Celsius and 1.5 (degrees C) warming shouldn’t be thought of as cliffs we walk off. A better analogy is a minefield,” Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann told InsideClimate News. “The further out on to that minefield we go, the more explosions we are likely to set off.”
The New York Times has a guide on other reasons why a half-degree of warming could make a huge difference for people and ecosystems worldwide.
In South Florida, questions about whether the economic climate will change
A prominent Miami developer said Monday he’s concerned about sea-level rise but plans to keep building on the beaches. Meanwhile, a well-known wealth adviser is telling clients to use caution if they decide to invest in South Florida real estate.
On Monday’s edition of The Sunshine Economy on WLRN, developer Jorge Pérez of The Related Group said he thinks the federal government needs to take the lead on cutting carbon dioxide emissions and urged President Trump to take action.
Local solutions like elevating buildings and installing pumps “are all very good solutions, but the answer to the problem is, we’ve gotta stop polluting,” Pérez said.
Pérez added that he’s worried about sea-level rise and what it could mean for South Florida — planners say the region could see two feet within the next 40 years — but that for now it won’t stop him from building in coastal areas that could be vulnerable to flooding or storm surge.
“If I have great beachfront locations, I will definitely still build on the beach because our greatest attraction in South Florida is the water,” he said. “That’s where people want to go.”
Meanwhile, the head of a wealth management company worth $1.5 billion is advising customers that South Florida’s real estate market might be a risky place to invest.
“We are not advising against investing in Miami or coastal cities altogether, but to do so in a way that can safeguard your portfolio and limit your exposure to vulnerable real estate assets,” Marc Singer, the founding partner of Coral Gables-based Singer Xenos Wealth Management, said in a Q&A published last month by the real estate news outlet GlobeSt.com.
In a Miami Herald story published Monday, Singer said he’s recommending clients keep half their assets outside of vulnerable markets.
“Vulnerable real estate is real estate that could go underwater — literally, not figuratively,” he said.
Climate thinkers honored
Appropriately, the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in economics are being honored for work on climate change and making growth sustainable.
William Nordhaus, an economist at Yale University, received the award for decades spent building models to measure the impacts of climate change on the economy. His methods are widely used to look at the costs and benefits of policies to address climate change.
Paul Romer, an economist at New York University and former chief economist at the World Bank, was honored for looking at ways to support growth. He found that governments can accelerate innovation by promoting research and development and access to education.
King Tides happening now
On top of all that, this week South Florida’s high tides are at some of their highest levels all year.
Exacerbated by sea-level rise, the “King Tides” routinely overflow storm drains and flood streets in the fall.
This year they may contain algae from the red tide bloom that’s spread along Florida’s coasts, which is closing beaches and killing manatees, sea turtles and thousands of fish. The blooms can cause respiratory irritation in humans.
Scientists say it’s unclear how much of the algae will end up in Miami’s streets, but people should avoid coming into contact with floodwater regardless: it can contain bacteria from septic tanks, chemicals and other contaminants.