“Every one of us will love someone who is still alive in 2100.” This simple yet prophetic statement by young New York climate activist Ayisha Siddiqa struck a chill down my spine. My granddaughters.
You see, the year 2100 is not just an occasion to pop champagne corks to the dawn of a new century; it is a year when most of the world’s climate models mark their results. Ms Siddiqa’s statement gives us pause to consider what kind of world our loved one will live in. A review of climate model results give us a few ideas.
First, we need to choose on which pathway of greenhouse gas emissions the world society is heading. The most recent reports by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AR6-WG1, 2021) give us a series of scenarios, called Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) from which to choose.
The most ‘forgiving’ pathway (SSP1-2.6) suggests warming to just over 1.8°C by 2050, relative to pre-industrial times, followed by a slow decline to about 1.7°C in the year 2100. As of now, the world has warmed by about 1.1°C, so we are already well over half way there.
However, in order for us to follow this pathway global greenhouse gas emissions would need to have peaked in 2020 and they did not. According to the International Energy Agency, emissions made their biggest increase yet in 2021, more than offsetting a pandemic-induced decline in 2020.
This increase is also apparent in the concentration of CO2 measured in the earth’s atmosphere. It continues to increase and this increase is accelerating.
Think of this like a carload of teenagers seeing how fast they can go on a lonely country road. They can see the turnoffs they need to take, but are still accelerating, with foot on the pedal, when they should be slowing down. This is us with greenhouse gas emissions right now.
So, it looks like we’ll miss the turnoff that would have put us on the RCP 2.6 pathway. The next pathway (SSP2-4.5) puts us at warming of about 2.7°C by 2100. Here, global emissions peak in 2040 and start to decline thereafter. There is still a chance that we can make this pathway, so it is where most optimistic observers would put us today.
If we assume this is the turnoff our carload of teenagers is able to take, we can tap into the results of climate models to see what conditions likely will be for our loved one in 2100.
Sea level will have risen about a half a metre and will continue to rise. If our loved one lived on the coastline, they would have moved by now to a place farther inland. Housing would likely be in short supply due to the others fleeing the advancing coastline and due to the need to house climate refugees from elsewhere, such as the Pacific Islands.
Summers will be hotter, with more very hot days. Our loved one will need reliable electricity for air conditioning.
Instances of intense rainfall will have increased in frequency and intensity, leading to more flooding, road closures and crop damage. Droughts will be longer and more intense. Combined, these point to reduced food supply. Our loved one will likely find it harder both to get to the market and to find food when they get there.
Changes to beloved ecosystems will be evident all around them. Forests will show signs of widespread tree mortality due to heat stress, drought and disease. Once-healthy forests will become prone to wildfires and pest invasion. Wildlife along the seashore will have changed, due to progressively warming and acidifying seas. Migration of fish to higher latitudes will have impacted coastal bird and marine mammal populations, decimating many beloved bird and seal colonies.
So, life, in all likelihood, will be harder and less certain for our loved one than it has been for us. While there certainly are things we can all do to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, there are other things we can do to soften the impacts of climate instability – under the banners of adaptation and resilience.
Here, we can take guidance from the IPCC (AR6-WG2, 2022): “Climate resilient development is advanced when actors work in equitable, just and enabling ways to reconcile divergent interests, values and worldviews, toward equitable and just outcomes.”
In simple language, we need to work together, listen to each other, learn to reconcile our differences and make sure no one is unfairly disadvantaged. This means sticking together, no matter what.
Ms. Siddiqa went on to say, “That loved one will either face a world in climate chaos or a clean green utopia depending on what we do today.” Utopia maybe not. But let’s give it our best shot.
These are a collection of opinion articles principally written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim. Some articles have been written by other CKM members, and their names appear with those articles.