We still have time to act on climate change
But records will tumble for next 20 years regardless of emissions
Posted on 20.06.2019
Our last summer was the hottest on record in Australia, and we can expect the record breaking weather to continue for at least the next 20 years, new climate change research has found.
Immediate action to drastically reduce emissions would rein in the temperature record-breaking from around 2040, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change today.
But the rate of record-smashing will continue to rise throughout the 21st century if emissions keep increasing at the current rate.
- The next 20 years are going to bring record temperatures and unprecedented weather conditions
- Under business-as-usual emissions scenario temperature records will be smashed all the way through the next century
- Learning to adapt to extreme temperatures will be just as important as emissions reductions in the coming decades
Two different climate futures
Hearing how fire agencies across the country were struggling to manage unprecedented bushfires motivated lead author Scott Power from the Bureau of Meteorology to undertake the study.
“We know that the intensity and frequency of extreme events is increasing… and they can push ecosystems and people beyond their ability to cope,” Dr Power said.
“I thought, well how often we are going to face these unprecedented conditions in the future?”
Dr Power used 22 climate models to project how often we would break temperature records in the next century, under both high (business as usual) and low emissions scenarios.
“We found that you’re going to smash and set records far more frequently if global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise the way they have been,” Dr Power said.
“By the end of the 21st century, there’s a very large difference between the two emissions trajectories.”
Under a business as usual emissions scenario — which is well beyond what the Paris Agreement hopes to achieve — 60 per cent of the world will set at least one new monthly temperature record every year by the end of the century.
However, under a low emissions scenario — which aims to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius as per the Paris Agreement — the likelihood of setting high monthly temperature records drops markedly from around 2040, to as low as 10 per cent by the end of the century.
“Reducing global emissions is going to prevent the rate of temperature record setting and smashing from increasing all the way through to the end of the century,” Dr Power said.
“But those benefits [of reducing emissions] don’t really kick in for another 20 years so.”
“What we do really does make a difference … ultimately this planet’s climate will stabilise if we reduce our emissions …”
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