A firmer timescale on global warming

A recent article in Nature is getting a lot of coverage: see for instance The Guardian, Daily Mail and The Sydney Morning Herald.

A group of researchers led by Camilo Mora in Hawaii have taken the bold step of attempting to predict how long we have before the climate will depart from its normal variability, specifically when our existing record climatic extremes will become typical. These records have been taken over a period of about 150 years to 2005, so already taking into account some climate change. The analysis is done over particular areas, ecological areas and types of species.

Typical dates come out at about 2050 if we continue down our existing emissions path (the IPCC’s RCP8.5) or about 20 years later if we start making substantial cuts (RCP4.5). But the tropics come out considerably worse, and in particular coral reefs, where we have already reached unprecdented levels of acidification in the past few years. Some locations, including parts of Indonesia, and Jamaica, have only ten years before they reach a new climate.

This may not be an enormous surprise, but it puts the issue into clear relief, perhaps more than the recent IPCC report did. The authors are pessimistic: they note that most of this change is already locked into our system. Even if our particular area might be further down the track (Britain seems to have until into the 2050s), our global economic and ecosystem means that we will be hit by secondary effects earlier.

It all calls for a renewed dose of hope. I’ve been reading on this topic recently: particularly some excellent writing by Richard Bauckham – watch this space.

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