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Climate change could cross key threshold in a decade: scientists

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OXFORD, England (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The planet could pass a key target on world temperature rise in about a decade, prompting accelerating loss of glaciers, steep declines in water availability, worsening land conflicts and deepening poverty, scientists said this week.

Last December, 195 nations agreed to try to hold world temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, with an aim of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But the planet is already two-thirds of the way to that lower and safer goal, and could begin to pass it in about a decade, according to Richard Betts, head of climate impacts research at the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre.

With world emissions unlikely to slow quickly enough to hit that target, it will probably be necessary to remove some carbon pollution from the atmosphere to stabilize the planet, scientists said at a University of Oxford conference on how to achieve the 1.5 degree goal.

That could happen by planting forests or by capturing and then pumping underground emissions from power plants. Or countries could turn to controversial “geoengineering” techniques, such as blocking some of the sunlight arriving on the planet, to hold down temperatures, they said.

“Negative emission technologies are likely to be needed, whether we like them or not,” said Pete Smith, a plant and soil scientist at the University of Aberdeen.

But other changes – such as reducing food waste and creating more sustainable diets, with less beef and fewer imported greenhouse vegetables – could also play a big role in meeting the goal, without so many risks, he said.

“There are lots of behavioral changes required, not just by the government … but by us,” Smith said.

The scientists said building resilience to deal with climate change impacts was likely to prove tricky, not least because their scale and timing remains hard to predict with precision.

“We need to get ready to deal with surprise,” said Jim Hall, director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.

 

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