Extreme warming ahead even as worst-case scenarios grow ‘obsolete’

(The Energy Mix, 23 Jan 2023) Early 2023 has been a rollercoaster ride for climate watchers: from relief that worst-case climate scenarios are no longer conceivable, to apocalyptic warnings that we could be headed for at least 7°C of warming, to hope that “super-tipping points” of climate action will soon galvanize rapid decarbonization, and concern that El Niño will return with unprecedented heat waves this year.

Graham Lawton, staff environmental writer for the New Scientist, declared last week that whereas “10 years ago there was a genuine fear that we were heading for catastrophic warming of between 4° and 5°C by 2100,” those “worst-case scenarios are no longer plausible.”

It was the wide dissemination of the so-called “business-as-usual” (BAU) climate scenario that raised and maintained the spectre of 4°C+ global heating, Lawton says. First proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2014, the BAU scenario assumed no climate action whatsoever, with fossil fuels burning unabated out to 2100.

But now “progress on renewable energy technology and implementation of climate policies have bent the emissions curve downwards towards warming of around 3°C by the end of the century,” Lawton says, producing a trajectory for global heating that is “still dangerous, but not hellish.” (Though even the 1.5° target for climate stabilization—or today’s average warming of about 1.1°—are both hellish enough in their own right.)

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The Energy Mix, 23 Jan 2023: Extreme warming ahead even as worst-case scenarios grow ‘obsolete’