global warming scenarios: pyramids in white sand

As Global Warming Rises, so does our Built Environment

For decades, scientists have warned that the rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels are causing global warming.

They predicted adverse effects on the climate, with an increase of ocean acidity, the frequency of freak weather and other symptoms of planetary ill-health.

Although disruptive, it seemed that keeping the global warming within 2°C of pre-industrial levels would probably leave Earth in a chronic but stable condition.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a UN-backed body that musters the science needed to inform policy. The IPCC unveiled this month report which, shows how optimistic that hypothesis was.

In 2015, 195 Countries signed the Paris climate agreement, which commits them to keep warming ‘well below’ 2°C and to ‘pursue efforts towards 1.5°C’. Then, they commissioned this survey, that focuses on the effects and technical feasibility of keeping warming within this tighter limit. The report’s message is beyond doubt:

the extra half a degree in global warming makes a big difference.

Arctic summers could be ice-free once a decade in a two-degree world. Instead, in a one and a half degree world, in a century.

Virtually all the ocean’s coral might be irreversible wipes out in a two-degree world. If global warming rises by less, 70-90% of it.

Sea levels may rise an extra 10cm, washing away the livelihoods of millions of more people. Permitting a rise of two degrees could also see an extra 420m people exposed to record heat.

Hitting either target would entail transforming economies at a breakneck pace.

To achieve 1.5°C, the world would by 2050 need to eliminate all 42bn tonnes of carbon-dioxide in annual emissions. As the charts show, even with negative emissions carbon-dioxide release still needs to fall by 45% or thereabouts by 2030.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC pathways to limit global warming

Pathways to limit global warming. Source: IPCC

To have any hope of achieving this, two-thirds of coal use must be phased out in little more than 10 years. By the middle of the century, virtually all electricity must come from carbon-free sources (up from a quarter today).

All cars will need to run on electric motors (up from one in 500), as will trains and most ships. Some technology needed to achieve this (solar panels, nuclear power plants, electric cars and so on) is around but not all of it.

Were any of this actually to happen, it would transform economies beyond recognition. Also, it would cost money. How much, the IPCC has resisted predicting, blaming limited economic research in the area.

Likewise, it does not attempt to value the flip side – the damage caused by the delay. Independent researchers estimate that keeping global warming rises to 1.5°C would cost 150% more than keeping them to 2°C. A rise of 1.5°C would shave 8% from global GDP per person by 2100, relative to a world with no more warming. A rise of 2°C, by contrast, would cause a discrepancy of 13%.

It is clear that the building industry needs to change NOW.

The building sector consumes 30% of global energy. At a third of our global energy demand, we must act in terms of retrofits and new builds across all building use sectors.

However small or large, at SpaceShapers we look at every project in terms of energy reduction. We incorporate our low energy specialist analysis into the design work, showing clients the inevitable financial savings they can expect from low energy design strategies.

Check our low energy design portfolio and read more about our low energy building design services.

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