For at least two decades, scientists have been working to understand what our world would be like if it were – on average – two degrees Celsius warmer than before the industrial revolution. It’s a somewhat arbitrary number – that two degrees - but it came from analyses suggesting it might be a feasible target that would avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
As the science evolved, though, two degrees of warming started to look increasingly dangerous. And, in 2015, U.N. negotiators representing small island nations drove a push to adopt a new, more ambitious target – limiting warming to just one and a half degrees.
Researchers immediately scrambled to understand what that would look like, and now, the U.N.’s climate change group is set to release a special report on what a world warmed by one and a half degrees Celsius might look like, and what it might take to get there.
A draft of the report was leaked to certain media outlets this past week, complete with U.S. negotiators comments calling into question the underlying science. So, we thought we’d dig into some of that science.
Kate Marvel is an Associate Research Scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University’s Department of Applied Physics and Mathematics. She also writes regularly for Scientific American in her column "Hot Planet." She spoke with Living Lab Radio about the science of climate change.