Misjudging Climate Catastrophe Sol-Up Solar, Nevada
Political leaders and climate activists often say that human-caused climate change presents an existential threat to humanity, or could lead to a global catastrophe, but this is rarely defined, Andrew writes.

Driving the news: A group of top climate scientists has come forward to argue that more rigorous research is urgently needed into such worst-case scenarios, which they call a “climate endgame.”

  • In a new perspective in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 researchers from around the world put forward a research agenda into the consequences of global warming that reaches the higher end of plausible scenarios, amounting to 3°C (5.4°F) or greater, by the end of the century.

Zoom in: The article, which provides a detailed proposal for a research program, states, “There are ample reasons to suspect that climate change could result in a global catastrophe.”

  • The authors, who include Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a physicist who advised former German chancellor Angela Merkel on climate science, and Johan Rockström, see such research as having the potential to motivate society to act with greater urgency to limit warming to the Paris targets.

Threat level: The paper notes how the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the risks of infrequent, high-impact global events that have knock-on effects throughout the global economy.

The paper provides a tour of the plausible ways in which climate change could tip society into more precarious, if not catastrophic, outcomes, from destabilizing the most fragile countries to causing physical and political “risk cascades” that can ripple around the world.

What they’re saying: “This isn’t about disaster voyeurism; it is about understanding plausible catastrophic risks so we can prevent them,” lead author Luke Kemp, of the University of Cambridge, told Axios via email.

  • “We are not saying that we are all doomed,” he said.

The intrigue: Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at Columbia Business School, who was not part of the author team, agrees that more research is needed.

  • “Even linear changes in underlying climate conditions can lead to socio-economic tipping points,” he said.
  • He cited the example of the drought in Syria in 2007-2010, which helped spark the civil war there, spurring a refugee crisis that in turn led to a rightward shift in European politics.
  • “Cascading risks deserve quite a bit more attention,” he said.

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