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The world’s bleak climate situation, in 3 charts

The world’s bleak climate situation, in 3 charts

We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.

Every so often it’s helpful — and by helpful I also mean traumatic, so buyer beware — to pull the lens back and take a look at the big picture on climate change and what’s necessary to avert its worst consequences.

In the journal Nature, journalist Jeff Tollefson recently offered that magisterial overview of the climate challenge and the progress that’s been made so far. He finds, as such sweeping looks tend to, that both optimists and pessimists have a case. There is a revolution in clean energy ... but it’s not happening fast enough.

I’ve boiled it down to three key graphics, adapted from Tollefson’s piece (which you should read, seriously).

Global average temperatures have risen about 1.1 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times. At current rates, they could exceed 1.5 degrees by 2030. And global greenhouse gas emissions, after a brief lull from 2014 to 2016, are rising again.

The worst-case scenarios, nudging up to 4 or 5 degrees, seem unlikely at this point. The political and economic winds have shifted; the curve is bending.

If all the world’s countries can live up to their pledges in the Paris climate agreement, we’ll hit the year 2100 somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 degrees. So far every country has done at least a little, though very few are on track to meet their commitments.

Suffice to say, 3 degrees is worse than 2 degrees. There’s no way to pin such differences down with precision, but this graph gives you a sense and this piece (drawn from Mark Lynas’s book Six Degrees) has a good description.