Entrenched consumption patterns and corporate indifference are slowing down urgent climate protection measures, revealed the Hamburg Climate Futures Outlook. The participating researchers systematically assessed to what extent societal changes have actually been implemented, while analyzing certain physical processes often discussed as tipping points.
Their conclusion was that societal change is essential to achieve the temperature targets set in Paris, but what has been achieved to date is insufficient. Climate adaptation will also have to be approached from a new angle.
The interdisciplinary team of researchers addressed ten important drivers of social change. “Actually, as far as climate protection is concerned, some things have already been set in motion,” said CLICCS professor Anita Engels. “But if you look at the development of social processes in detail, keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees is still not plausible.”
With a lot of effort and real implementation ambition of measures to decarbonize the energy that humans use on the planet, perhaps a rise of no more than 2 degrees is still plausible. Efforts must therefore be focused on adaptation.
According to the Outlook, consumption patterns and corporate responses are slowing down urgently needed climate protection measures. Other key factors such as UN climate policy, legislation, climate protests and fossil fuel divestment are supporting efforts to meet climate targets. However, as the analysis shows, these positive dynamics alone will not be enough to stay within the 1.5-degree limit.
The required deep decarbonization is progressing too slowly.Anita Engels, CLICCS professor
The team assesses certain physical processes that are often discussed as tipping points: the loss of Arctic sea ice and melting ice sheets are serious developments, as are regional climate changes. But they will have very little influence on global temperature until 2050.
In this regard, melting permafrost, weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and loss of the Amazon Rainforest are more important factors, albeit only moderately so. “The fact is that these feared tipping points could drastically change the conditions for life on Earth, but they are largely irrelevant for reaching the temperature targets of the Paris Agreement,” said Jochem Marotzke, one of the CLICCS speakers from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology.
The study also covers Covid-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine: economic reconstruction programs have reinforced dependence on fossil fuels, meaning that the necessary changes are now less plausible than previously assumed. Conversely, it is not yet clear whether efforts to safeguard Europe’s energy supply and the international community’s attempts to become independent of Russian gas will undermine or accelerate the long-term phase-out of fossil fuels.
Limiting global temperature increase to below 2 °C can become plausible if implementation and knowledge gaps are closed.Anita Engels, CLICCS professor
“In light of these findings, we conclude that achieving deep decarbonization worldwide by 2050 is currently not plausible, given the observable trajectories of the social drivers,” said Anita Engels. “Selected physical processes of public interest inhibit only moderately, if at all, the plausibility of reaching the Paris Agreement temperature targets, although they may substantially modify the physical boundary conditions for society. Reaching the 1.5 °C temperature target of the Paris Agreement is not plausible, but limiting global temperature increase to below 2 °C can become plausible if ambition, implementation and knowledge gaps are closed.”
Outlook is currently the only assessment that links social science and natural science analysis in an integrated study to assess the plausibility of certain climate futures. More than 60 experts have contributed. According to the study, the best hope for shaping a positive climate future lies in society’s ability to make fundamental changes (“human agency”). The Outlook revealed a variety of conditions for doing so that transnational initiatives and non-governmental actors continue to support climate protection, and that protests keep pressure on politicians.