World heading towards irreversible 'hothouse' state

Scientists say humanity may only have a few years to save itself from disaster

Scientists say humanity may only have a few years to save itself from disaster

If polar ice continues to melt, forests are slashed and greenhouse gases rise to new highs - as they now do each year - the Earth will pass a tipping point.

Many parts of Earth could become uninhabitable for humans, with the planet at risk of entering an irreversible "hothouse" climate.

But now a report by a group of scientists says keeping global warming to between 1.5-2°C may be more hard than they previously thought.

If that's reached, Dr Rockstrom say it would send the planet on the path to a "Hothouse Earth" - and it's not for the faint hearted.

By the end of the century or maybe even earlier, storms would cause devastation on coastal communities, rivers would overflow, and coral reefs would be eliminated.

Currently, global average temperatures are just over 1°C above the pre-industrial period and rising at 0.17°C each decade.

Melting polar ice caps would lead to dramatically higher sea levels, flooding coastal land that is home to hundreds of millions of people.

Lead researcher Professor Will Steffen from The Australian National University (ANU) said these kinds of increases in temperatures and sea level would be "devastating" for human civilisation and most ecosystems that support plant and animal life. Crossing that tipping point "guarantees a climate 4-5 Celsius higher than pre-industrial times" say the scientists.

"The real concern is these tipping elements can act like a row of dominoes".

This cascade "may tip the entire Earth system into a new mode of operation", said co-author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

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An Irish climate change academic has warned of "runaway warming" if global temerature increases are not maintained below 2C.

The scientist who compiled the "Perspective" article based their conclusions on previously examined conditions the Earth has experienced and previously published studies on tipping points for our planet.

Drought conditions are seen in Cape Town, South Africa. Some admit that while the new work is "rather selective" the results of the study aren't "outlandish".

The research explains that it's not clear if this deal will affect climate change.

Fossil fuels should be replaced with alternative energy sources with low or zero emission.

They recommend improving forest and agricultural management, conserving biodiversity and creating technology that will remove Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

"Deep cuts" in greenhouse gas emmissions as well as concerted efforts to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are required to avoid a Hothouse Earth state, the researchers added.

Those elements included the reduction of Antarctic sea ice and polar sheets, the release of methane trapped on the ocean floor and Amazon rainforest dieback.

However, it is not clear whether the world's climate can be safely "parked" near 2°C above pre-industrial levels or whether this might trigger other processes which drive further warming even if the world stops emitting greenhouse gases, the research said.

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