The possibility of a string of disasters due to global warming is “dangerously under-researched” by the international community, scientists warn in a study released Tuesday, urging the world to think about the worst to better prepare for it.
In an article published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), the researchers argue that too little work has been focused on the mechanisms that could lead to “catastrophic” and “irreversible” risks to humanity: for example, if the temperature increase is greater, than expected, or if it triggers a cascade of events not yet anticipated, or both.
“These are the most important scenarios that we know least about,” writes Luke Kemp of the Cambridge Center for Existential Risk Studies.
The more research on Earth’s climate tipping points, such as the irreversible melting of ice caps or the disappearance of the Amazon rainforest, increases, the more it becomes necessary to factor in high-risk scenarios in climate modeling, Johan explains. Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Effects and co-author.
Heat Hazards (AFP – Gal ROMA)
“Pathways to disaster are not limited to direct exposure to high temperatures, such as extreme weather events, to recovery from potential disasters, such as nuclear war,” adds Luke Kemp.
In response, the team proposes a research program to help governments fight the “four horsemen” of the “climate apocalypse”: hunger and malnutrition, extreme weather events, conflict and vector-borne diseases.
The authors note that consistent scientific reports from UN climate experts (IPCC) have largely focused on the predicted impacts of 1.5–2°C warming.
But current government actions are instead putting the Earth on a warming trajectory of 2.7°C by the end of the century, far from the 1.5°C targeted by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Country exposure to climate change (AFP – Kenan AUGEARD)
The study suggests that a certain scientific trend to “prefer the worst-case scenario” has led to a lack of attention to the potential impacts of 3°C or more of warming.
These researchers estimate that by 2070, two billion people could be affected in heat extremes with average annual temperatures above 29°C.
These temperatures represent a serious risk of breadcrumbs from droughts like the one currently hitting Western Europe and heatwaves like the one that hit India’s wheat crop in March/April.