One problem with framing the goal this way, though, is that it’s maddeningly abstract. What does staying below 2°C entail? Papers on this topic usually drone on about a “carbon budget” — the total amount of CO2 humans can emit this century before we likely bust past 2°C — and then debate how to divvy up that budget among nations. There’s math involved. It’s eye-glazing, and hard to translate into actual policy. It’s also a long-term goal, easy for policymakers to shrug off.
So, not surprisingly, countries have thus far responded by putting forward a welter of vague pledges on curbing emissions that are hard to compare and definitely don’t add up to staying below 2°C. Everyone agrees more is needed, but there’s lots of uncertainty as to what “more” means. Few people grasp how radically — or how quickly — we’d have to revamp the global economy to meet the Paris climate goals.
Surely there’s a better, more concrete way to think about this. So, in a new paper for Science, a group of European researchers try to do just that — laying out in vivid detail what would have to happen in each of the next three decades if we want to stay well below 2°C. Fair warning: It’s unsettling.
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