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Home / research / “Hothouse Earth”: The Earth is at risk of becoming uninhabitable due to global warming

“Hothouse Earth”: The Earth is at risk of becoming uninhabitable due to global warming

According to a new study by an international team of scientists, even if the carbon emissions reduction targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement are achieved, the Earth is at risk of entering what scientists call “Hothouse Earth” conditions.

What is a “Hothouse Earth” climate?

A “Hothouse Earth” climate means global average temperatures 4-5°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures, and a sea level 10-60 m higher than today. If the “Hothouse Earth” climate becomes a reality, places on the planet will become uninhabitable.  Tweet This!

According to lead author Will Steffen from the Australian National University and Stockholm Resilience Centre, “human-induced global warming of 2°C may trigger other Earth system processes, often called ‘feedbacks’, that can drive further warming – even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases. Avoiding this scenario requires a redirection of human actions from exploitation to stewardship of the Earth system.” Such feedbacks or “tipping elements” can act like a row of dominoes and include, among others, loss of methane hydrates from the ocean floor, Amazon rainforest and boreal forest dieback, reduction of northern hemisphere snow cover and loss of Arctic summer sea ice.

The report is published as Europe experiences record summer temperatures, resulting in droughts and dangerous wildfires. In Australia, too, draught-hit farms are in danger of running out of feed and water, with Australian farmers slaughtering, as a consequence, 659,000 head of cattle in June, or selling stock they could no longer feed. Ninety-nine percent of New South Wales state, where one-quarter of Australia’s agricultural production is generated, is, currently, in drought.

Reducing carbon emissions is not enough – an acceleration of the transition to an emission-free global economy is needed

Increasing the chances of avoiding a “Hothouse Earth” will require more than just a reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. New biological carbon stores will have to be created and existing ones will have to be improved through, among others, biodiversity conservation and technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground. In conclusion, the study’s authors call for an acceleration of the transition to an emission-free global economy.

 

Note by the Editor:

How do we accelerate the transition to an emission-free global economy?

Approximately 90% of the global business is accounted for by SMEs who are not doing much over and beyond compliance. All business of every size needs to self-regulate and drive emissions out of supply chains. For example, it is not enough for a large e-commerce company to just deal with the emissions it is directly responsible for (e.g. a few company cars). If it heavily relies on external courier services for delivery of orders, how is it dealing with their emissions? Is this company using, for instance, GRI Standard 308 Supplier Environmental Assessment in combination with GRI 305 Emissions to assess and choose suppliers which have the lowest or no emissions? That is the key in our view to accelerating the transition to an emission-free global economy.

Simon Pitsillides

SustainCase Editor

 

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References:

This article is based on published information by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). For the sake of readability, we did not use brackets or ellipses. However, we made sure that the extra or missing words did not change the publication’s meaning. If you would like to quote these written sources from the original please revert to the following link:

http://www.pnas.org/

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