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A coal plant in Turkey. Photo: Mehmet Ali Ozcan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A sobering new piece in the journal Nature finds that October's dire UN science report about the ongoing and future effects of climate change may have actually underestimated the pace of global warming.

Why it matters: The new analysis, if borne out, widens what's already a huge gulf between the expected human and ecological toll from high levels and rapid rates of warming and the failure of governments worldwide to bring about the steep carbon emissions cuts that could prevent runaway temperature increases.

The big picture: The Nature piece sees a "good chance" that a temperature rise of 1.5 °C, or 2.7°F, above preindustrial levels could arrive by 2030 if emissions continue unchecked.

  • That's a decade earlier than the UN science body envisioned in their report.
  • "Policymakers have less time to respond than they thought," writes Texas A&M University atmospheric scientist Yangyang Xu. The other authors are University of California, San Diego climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan, and UC-San Diego political scientist David Victor.

What they found: The authors see three big trends combining over the next 20 years that will make climate change "faster and more furious than anticipated."

  • Carbon emissions: They're rising again after a plateau in 2014 to 2016.
  • Air pollution: Ironically, governments' success in improving air quality is speeding up the temperature rise. That's because tiny particles known as aerosols in traditional pollutants help to reflect sunlight back into space. This blunts some of the warming due to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Natural climate cycles: The authors point to natural climate fluctuations that favor the increased release of heat from the oceans. One is a cycle of changes in the Pacific Ocean that may be heading back into a mid-latitude warming phase. The other is less mixing of surface and deep waters in the Atlantic, which keeps more heat at the surface.

What's next: The Nature piece says the accelerated warming calls for a suite of responses from scientists and policymakers that focus more heavily on the nearer-term.

  • One of them are aggressive efforts to cut "super-pollutants" — methane, soot and hydrofluorocarbons — that are emitted in far lower amounts than CO2 but have an outsized and relatively near-term warming effect.
  • And "various climate engineering options should be on the table as an emergency response," they write. They call for research, testing, and technical readiness to deploy the controversial idea of spreading aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect some solar energy away from the planet.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Senate Democrats unveil new income tax for billionaires

Sen. Ron Wyden. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Democrats on Wednesday released a billionaires' tax proposal, designed to help support President Biden's social spending and climate change legislation.

Why it matters: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the Billionaires Income Tax would raise "hundreds of billions of dollars" and would affect approximately 700 taxpayers who have more than $1 billion in assets or incomes of over $100 million a year.

The startup that wants to disrupt big internet providers

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A new startup backed by funding from AOL founder Steve Case and Laurene Powell Jobs wants to break up broadband monopolies across the country.

Why it matters: Internet access has been crucial during the pandemic, but it's not ubiquitous, and it can be both slow and unaffordable in swaths of the country.

4 hours ago - World

Top general: China's hypersonic missile test "very close" to a "Sputnik moment"

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Rod Lamkey-Pool/Getty Images

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Wednesday that China's test of a hypersonic missile is "very concerning" and "very close" to the kind of "Sputnik moment" that triggered the Space Race during the Cold War.

Why it matters: The comments by America's top uniformed general underscore the depths of U.S. concerns about China's rapid military expansion and development of advanced weaponry.