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A snow and icy landscape with a clear blue sky

Scientists – including one of Durham’s leading glaciologists - and several countries highly vulnerable to climate change have warned that key global temperature goals might be too high.

The Ambition on Melting Ice (AMI) group of countries and researchers say the most recent science looking at the world’s ice sheets, glaciers and permafrost indicates that a global temperature rise of 2°C above pre-industrial levels is too high to prevent devastating and irreversible impacts of climate change.

This was the upper limit set by world leaders in 2015 under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The group also warns that even the lower 1.5°C limit agreed in Paris could be too high and has called for greater cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Bonn Climate Change Conference

The AMI group met with other interested governments and stakeholders ahead of the Bonn Climate Change Conference where countries are finalising the first evaluation of the Paris climate agreement pledges.

Durham’s Professor Chris Stokes – who recently led research looking at how the worst effects of global warming on the giant East Antarctic Ice Sheet might be avoided if temperature rises stay below the 2°C limit – addressed the event.

“On the edge of a cliff”

Professor Stokes said: “We are on the edge of a cliff.

“The latest science over the last two to three years tells us the threshold beyond which ice loss from the Antarctic will become irreversible over centuries to millennia is much lower than we thought.

“If we keep on as we are now, we could trigger runaway feedbacks within the next few decades, with sea level rise from ice sheets accelerating much, much faster than we feared.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says up to 3.5 billion people live in regions highly vulnerable to even moderate sea level rise from ice sheets or at least seasonally dependent on water from glaciers and snow.

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Banner image: A field camp on the surface of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, Princess Elizabeth Land (photograph: Nerilie Abram).