Kate Mackenzie ‘We should be planning to adapt to at least 4ºC of warming’

How would the world adapt to the scenario outlined in Nature‘s two studies published today? Both say the world has a total ‘carbon emission budget’ of 1,000bn tonnes of carbon.

As Fiona Harvey reported in today’s FT:

To remain on track with this “carbon budget” Canada would have to leave its oil sands untapped and Saudi Arabia would need to leave most of its oil reserves in the ground to avert disaster.

So, what now?

Thoughts naturally turn to what action should now be taken (if one assumes giving up is not appealing). Nature’s editorial notes that the IPCC is already looking at ways to suck the CO2 out of the air. Another approach known as ‘geo-engineering’, such as trying to dim the incoming sunlight, could have more worrying effects, says Nature. John Holdren, Barack Obama’s chief scientific advisor, suggested in February that geo-engineering may have a role to play in avoiding climate change.


Fiona Harvey writes:

If all efforts fail and the world does overshoot its temperature targets, as seems likely, then we will have to adapt rapidly to the effects of climate change. Adaptation measures vary from the obvious and mechanical – higher sea walls, flood barriers in rivers – to the natural – restoring mangrove swamps in tropical regions, and wetlands in temperate zones – and the less obvious – sewage systems in the coastal cities of developed countries could easily be overwelmed by sea level rises, so they would need to be made more robust to cope with greater inflows.

Professor Martin Parry of Imperial College London, and colleagues, says in Nature: “We should be planning to adapt to at least 4°C of warming.”

That will be a phenomenally difficult task, involving an overhaul of all types of our infrastructure. As we cope with a global population rise to 9bn by 2050, that will become even more daunting.