Global temperatures could rise by a blistering 9.5 degrees Celsius if the planet’s remaining fossil fuels are burned at current rates, a new study says.
The study, published this week in Nature Climate Change, predicts stronger warming than previously projected.
“If we continue to burn Earth’s remaining fossil fuel resources, the Earth will encounter a profound climate change,” said lead author Katarzyna Tokarska, a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria who is studying climate change and analysis.
Warming won’t be uniform around the world, according to the study. While global temperatures are projected to rise between 6.4 and 9.5 C, Arctic temperatures would surge between 14.7 and 19.5 C by about 2200.
Some regions will see precipitation rates quadruple. Other areas will see extreme drying and drought, with precipitation dropping by two-thirds to half the current rate, Tokarska said.
It’s impossible to know how many fossil-fuel reserves remain. Tokarska said the research is based on the conservative estimate of five trillion tonnes of carbon emissions, which doesn’t take into account potential extractive technologies or sources.
In contrast to earlier studies, which predicted a decline in warming after the two-trillion-tonne mark, the new study predicts that warming will continue in line with emissions.
One reason for the difference relates to modelling for ocean heat uptake. Previous models overestimated the ocean’s capacity for storing heat, Tokarska said. Instead, the new study found the ocean would reach a “saturation point.”
The report comes months after 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement, setting a target of limiting the global average temperature increase to less than 2 C.
“It is relevant to know what would happen if we do not take any action to mitigate the effects of climate change,” she said. “We still have an opportunity to act, but later it will be too late.”
Other authors of the study include Nathan Gillett and Vivek Arora of Environment and Climate Change Canada, B.C. Green MLA Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria and Michael Eby of Simon Fraser University.