Humans must focus on more than carbon dioxide to meet Paris Agreement targets, study warns

“We need to cut the short-lived pollutants so that there are no short-term catastrophes in the next 25 years, without losing track of the long term.”


Many governments, companies, organizations, and individuals are working to help limit global warming to 1.5°C by minimizing carbon footprints and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But a new study warns that failure to reduce emissions across the board, including methane, hydrofluorocarbons, soot, and other short-lived climate pollutants will cause humanity to miss not only the 1.5°C goal but could also contribute to 2°C of warming by 2050.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, outlined that short- and long-term actions must address both carbon and non-carbon emissions to prevent catastrophic warming.

The researchers used climate models to project global warming consequences with only decarbonization methods and found that a focus solely on carbon emissions actually led to an increase in warming. According to the study, a combination of emissions reduction strategies would keep warming below 2°C, while decarbonization only would lead to warming above 2.0°C by 2045.

This is not the first study to identify short-lived climate pollutants as a major problem. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report also noted non-carbon dioxide emissions as a contributor to warming.

“Non-CO2 emissions contribute to peak warming and thus affect the remaining carbon budget. The evolution of methane and sulphur dioxide emissions strongly influences the chances of limiting warming to 1.5°C,” the report explained. “In the near-term, a weakening of aerosol cooling would add to future warming, but can be tempered by reductions in methane emissions.”

A more recent report from the IPCC was less clear on the importance of reducing short-lived climate pollutants, focusing more on long-term warming and carbon emissions, despite rapid short-term warming influenced heavily by non-carbon sources. The study authors want to draw more attention to both short- and long-term warming as well as both decarbonization efforts and mitigation tactics for other greenhouse gases.

“If you’re going to pass one and a half degrees in 10 years, and then you are going to pass two degrees in about 25 years, that’s what we need to focus on,” said Veerabhadran Ramanathan, study co-author and an atmospheric and climate sciences professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, as reported by Inside Climate News. “We need to cut the short-lived pollutants so that there are no short-term catastrophes in the next 25 years, without losing track of the long term.”


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Based in Los Angeles, Paige Bennett is a writer who is passionate about sustainability. Aside from writing for EcoWatch, Paige also writes for Insider, HomeAdvisor, Thrillist, EuroCheapo, Eat This, Not That! and more. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Journalism from Ohio University and holds a certificate in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She also specialized in sustainable agriculture while pursuing her undergraduate degree. When she's not writing, Paige enjoys decorating her apartment, enjoying a cup of coffee and experimenting in the kitchen (with local, seasonal ingredients, of course!).