Scientists say it may still technically be possible to limit warming to 1.5C if drastic action is taken now
Climate change could be kept in check if a phaseout of all fossil fuel infrastructure were to begin immediately, according to research.
It shows that meeting the internationally agreed aspiration of keeping global warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is still possible. The scientists say it is therefore the choices being made by global society, not physics, which is the obstacle to meeting the goal.
The study found that if all fossil fuel infrastructure – power plants, factories, vehicles, ships and planes – from now on are replaced by zero-carbon alternatives at the end of their useful lives, there is a 64% chance of staying under 1.5C.
In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the difference between 1.5C of warming and the earlier international target of 2C was a significantly lower risk of drought, floods, heatwaves and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
Christopher Smith, of the University of Leeds, who led the research, said: “It’s good news from a geophysical point of view. But on the other side of the coin, the [immediate fossil fuel phaseout] is really at the limit of what we could we possibly do. We are basically saying we can’t build anything now that emits fossil fuels.”
Nicholas Stern, of the London School of Economics, who was not part of the research team, said: “We are rapidly approaching the end of the age of fossil fuels. This study confirms that all new energy infrastructure must be sustainable from now on if we are to avoid locking in commitments to emissions that would lead to the world exceeding the goals of the Paris agreement.”
Read more: The Guardian