With Earth’s average annual temperature speeding toward 1.5 degrees Celsius faster than expected and global climate policy on a treadmill, an increasing number of researchers say it’s time to consider a “restorative pathway” to avoid the worst ecological and social outcomes of global warming.
In a study published today in Environmental Research Letters, an international team of scientists wrote that reaching global goals could require focusing on ways to drive rapid changes in the way people live, move, work and eat; on making sure that global wealth is distributed more equitably; and on restoring and protecting biodiversity and ecosystems like forests, oceans, fields and rivers that are critical to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The restorative approach should be considered soon because the pace of climate impacts to ecosystems and communities is speeding up, the authors said. Climate extremes are outpacing decades of efforts to cap global warming with tools like carbon trading and offsets. Those are hallmarks of the green growth path mapped out by various United Nations-sponsored climate pacts like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, as well other ancillary agreements. They all aim to keep growing the global economy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050—partly based on assuming that large quantities of carbon dioxide will be directly removed from the air and stored by giant machines by then.
Many countries, like France, Sweden and the United States, have reduced emissions while continuing to grow their economies—called decoupling—over the last few decades, but research shows it’s not happening nearly fast enough to cap global warming.
Total global emissions, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and the global average temperature all climbed to record highs during the past 30 years, amounting to about half the total greenhouse gas accumulations in the atmosphere since the start of the industrial age.
“It’s almost too late. We need to get cracking with this,” said Manfred Lenzen, a sustainability researcher at the University of Sydney and co-author of the new paper. “A lot of people think 1.5 is dead already, that we have to realistically aim for staying below 2C,” he said, adding that green growth—decoupling emissions from economic expansion—might have worked if the world had taken it seriously in 2000. [Continue reading…]