Feb 26, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Ex-diplomats sketch out two visions of climate change in 2050

Christiana Figueres at the 2019 Web Summit. Photo: NurPhoto / Contributor

Two architects of the Paris Climate Agreement present a pair of possible scenarios for the global climate in 2050 — one in which we've met the carbon reduction targets laid out in the agreement, and one in which we've failed.

Why it matters: The authors argue that we have a decade left to pick which path the planet will take: catastrophe or hope.

Former United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change head Christiana Figueres and climate diplomat Tom Rivett-Carnac were instrumental in guiding the Paris Agreement, which committed countries to reducing carbon emissions sufficiently to keeping global temperature rise below at least 2° C by 2100.

  • In their new book The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, the pair sketch out what the climate could look like by mid-century, depending on whether we meet the Paris goals.
  • If we succeed, they foresee a world where forests cover half the land surface, air pollution has disappeared and fossil fuels have been eliminated.
  • If we fail, warming will be on a pace for a 3°C increase by 2050, the air will become unbreathable and the very future of human civilization will be in doubt.

What they're saying: "If we continue where we are now, we are going to be irreparably going down a course of constant destruction," Figueres told the Guardian.

  • Altering that path will require sharp technological and political change, especially in the U.S. The choices made in 2020 will help decide the climate in 2050.

Go deeper

Hardly anyone talks about climate change

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Politicians, corporations, the media and activists are talking about climate change more than ever — but most Americans are not.

Be smart: If you’re reading this on social media, you’re probably the exception, not the rule. Just 9% of Americans talk about climate change often, surveys by Yale and George Mason University indicate.

Big climate change policy unlikely no matter who wins the White House

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Don’t hold your breath for big climate policy changes — even if a Democrat wins the White House.

Why it matters: Congress is likely to remain gridlocked on the matter, leading to either more of the same with President Trump’s re-election or a regulatory swing back to the left no matter which Democrat wins — but far short of a legislative overhaul.

Bill Gates says coronavirus will set back climate change innovation

Bill Gates speaking at the 8th International Conference on Agriculture Statistics in India in 2019. Photo: Indraneel Chowdhury/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Bill Gates said in a "TED Connects" interview Tuesday the coronavirus will "delay the urgent innovation agenda that exists over in climate,” but not irrevocably.

Driving the news: "I have freed up a lot of time to work on climate," the billionaire philanthropist said. "I have to say for the last few months that’s now shifted and until we get out of this crisis, COVID-19 will dominate and some of the climate stuff, although it will still go on, it won’t get that same focus.”