That is, if we get serious right now.
Climate news is dominated by doom and gloom. Whether it’s another natural disaster or nations like the United States acting up (again), something is always going wrong. But there’s finally a bit of good news in the climate space: A new paper has found that if everybody acts right, the Paris Agreement might actually kind of work.
Established in 2015, the Paris climate agreement’s main goal is to prevent global temperatures from rising in this century by more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Per the United Nations, 193 parties have joined the Paris Agreement to date.
Since its creation, there’s been plenty of drama surrounding the Paris Agreement. The United States left — and then came back. Many nations aren’t even pretending to hit their targets. Yet despite all this, researchers in a new Nature paper say we may be able to stop global temperatures from climbing over that 2 degrees Celsius mark.
To do this, each of the nations have to stick to their pledges. This includes the ones made as part of the recent Glasgow Climate Pact at the U.N.’s COP26 climate conference. In a briefing with journalists, lead author Malte Meinshausen, a professor at the University of Melbourne, said, “Is our study a good news story? Yes, because for the first time we can possibly keep warming below the symbolic [2 degrees Celsius] mark with promises on the table.”
To be clear: The Paris Agreement was a pretty weak treaty. As Grist reported last November, there’s nothing in the agreement that really keeps countries accountable. Countries set their own goals, and the pact trusts everybody to keep their word.
Yet during COP26, the Paris Agreement seemed to be making social progress. Countries were actually committing to bigger efforts to combat climate change. For example, India vowed to zero out its greenhouse gas emissions by 2070. The U.S. and 129 other countries said they’d cut methane emissions.
“We came to Glasgow on a path to disaster,” Johan Rockström, an environmental scientist and the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, tweeted at the time, referring to the current pace of 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming. “We leave Glasgow on a path to danger (just below 2°C).”
With these new pledges, Grist reported the International Energy Agency said that if all of the promises were kept, the world will warm by only 1.8 degrees — not great, but still meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal. And these findings are in line with what researchers have asserted in Nature.
However, we’re not entirely in the clear. France24 reported that Zeke Hausfather, a researcher at Berkeley Earth, warned, “Long-term targets should be treated with skepticism if they are not supported by short-term commitments to put countries on a pathway in the next decade to meet those targets.”