Dire warnings of underwater cities and drowning polar bears are less likely to pan out than once thought.
That’s an upshot of a new study in the journal Nature by top climate scientists, including a lead author of U.N. climate estimates.
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The study’s conclusion says it is “renewing hope that we may yet be able to avoid global warming exceeding [3.6 °F].”
For the last 25 years, the UN has had the same prediction of the impact of carbon dioxide: That will warm the Earth by between 2.7 – 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit if emissions continue at the current rate and levels end up at double the pre-industrial level.
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But the latest study uses a new method to determine that the actual likely range of warming would be narrower: between 4 – 6.1°F. The study finds just a 1% chance of an increase over 8.1°F degrees.
Past models have over-predicted warming. A 2013 study in the journal Nature Climate Change found that out of 117 climate predictions made in the 1990's, three were roughly accurate and 114 overestimated warming.
The new study takes that and more into account by looking at many past climate models as well as historical data.
The new model “better estimates future changes based on the fluctuations seen in historical data,” study co-author Chris Huntingford, a climate modeler at the U.K.’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, told Fox News.
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While the study anticipates less warming than before, the authors caution that governments must still work hard to prevent global warming.
“The current warming of one degree Celsius [1.8 °F] has already changed our climate significantly. The frequency of heat waves has increased,” lead author Peter Cox, a mathematics professor at the University of Exeter, told Fox News. Cox has been a lead author on the UN’s past climate estimates.
He says that expected warming is in the sweet spot for where action makes sense.
“Climate sensitivity is high enough to demand action, but not so high that it is too late to avoid dangerous global climate change,” Cox said in a press release.
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Some skeptics say that the new analysis relies on too many assumptions to be confident about its results.
“I think the method needs more work before the results are convincing,” climate scientist Judith Curry, the former chair of climate science at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told Fox News.
“However, their conclusion of lower sensitivity (less warming) is generally consistent with my own research,” she added.
Anthony Watts, a meteorologist and climate change blogger at Watts Up With That, told Fox News that all models are suspect until the impact of clouds on temperature is better understood – and that governments shouldn’t try to reduce emissions.
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“The market is going to drive the solutions... it is very active in trying to create alternative solutions,” he said.
The study authors maintain the importance of government intervention.
“To those skeptical of climate change, our paper does not say the climate change problem has gone away. It instead indicates very low levels of climate change or very high levels of change are less likely,” Huntingford told Fox News.
“Further dangerous changes in the climate can be avoided by actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as moving to more renewable energy sources and replanting forest to remove carbon dioxide from the air.”
Maxim Lott can be reached on Twitter at @maximlott