Climate change is a speeding freight train, reducing short-lived climate pollutants can help slow it down.

Rapid warming will create a greater need for emissions policies that yield the quickest changes in climate, such as controls on Short-lived climate pollutants

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Forest fires like those that devastated California in 2018 are expected to become more frequent with climate change.

A new comment* piece in Nature says the world is fast running out of time to prevent up to 1.5˚C of warming and the world could reach that milestone sooner than previously thought. 

The op-ed by Yangyang Xu, CCAC Scientific Advisory Panel member Veerabhadran Ramanathan, and David G. Victor, have likened climate change to a speeding freight train saying three trends — rising emissions, declining air pollution and natural climate cycles — will combine over the next 20 years to make climate change faster and more furious than anticipated. They believe we could breach the 1.5°C level by 2030, not 2040 as projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on 1.5˚C.

The authors say scientists and policy makers must rethink their roles, objectives and approaches on four fronts:

Assess science in the near term. Climate researchers should model the next 25 years in more detail and quantify the odds and impacts of extreme events. Having more clarity over the near-term will be more useful in assessing real climate dangers and responses.

Rethink policy goals. The article says that too often warming limits (like 1.5˚C) are misconstrued as physical thresholds around which to design policies. This leads to an over reliance on things like negative emissions technologies. Instead policy makers should develop realistic goals based on political and social trade-offs, not just on geophysical parameters. These policies should come out of analyses of costs, benefits and feasibility.

Design strategies for adaptation. Policy makers need two types of information to guide their responses: the potential local impacts at county to city scales and an understanding of the uncertainty in the ranges of probable climate impacts and responses. More planning and costing is needed around the worst-case outcomes.

Understand options for rapid response. According to the authors, “Climate assessments must evaluate quick ways of lessening climate impacts, such as through reducing emissions of methane, soot (or black carbon) and HFCs. Per tonne, these three ‘super pollutants’ have 25 to thousands of times the impact of CO2. Their atmospheric lifetimes are short — in the range of weeks (for soot) to about a decade (for methane and HFCs). Slashing these pollutants would potentially halve the warming trend over the next 25 years”. It is important to offer practical options that policymakers can deploy quickly as communities face increasing threats from forest fires, floods and storms.

The authors conclude by saying the days where scientists analyse long-term goals, and policymakers pretend to honour them, are over. Serious climate policy must focus more on the near-term and on feasibility.

Read the article here.

*Nature Comment pieces are not peer-reviewed Nature research papers or articles. Comment pieces are topical, authoritative Op-Eds pertaining to scientific research and its ramifications.

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