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University of Victoria researchers model worst-case climate change scenario

Study authored by University of Victoria researcher forecasts global temperature increases of up to 9.5 degrees C if Earth’s remaining fossil fuels are burned.

Chevron Refinery in Burnaby, B.C. on Monday March 18, 2013.


Chevron Refinery in Burnaby, B.C. on Monday March 18, 2013.

The unmitigated burning of Earth’s remaining fossil fuels would cause global warming on a scale bigger than previously anticipated, according to a new study out of the University of Victoria.

Katarzyna Tokarska, a PhD student at the university, is the lead author of a new paper published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change titled “The climate response to five trillion tonnes of carbon”.

She and her team – including other researchers from UVic, Simon Fraser University, the Canadian Centre of Climate Modelling and Analysis, and Environment and Climate Change Canada – set out to see what would happen to the planet if all of its estimated untapped fossil-fuel resources were burned.

The research team found that releasing five trillion tonnes of carbon emissions would cause average global temperatures to increase by between 6.4 to 9.5 degrees Celsius.

With the international community striving to keep global temperatures from rising less than 2 C from pre-industrial levels via the Paris accord, it’s unlikely the scenario outlined in the paper will come to be.

But Tokarska said it’s valuable for the scientific community to know what the worst-case scenario could be.

Previous modelling, including those used by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, use projections that assume just two trillion tonnes of carbon would be released.

“It’s relevant to know what would happen if we don’t take action to mitigate climate change. It’s a warning call,” Tokarska told Metro. “The key point is if we continue to burn fossil fuels without mitigation it will result in profound climate change.”

-with files from The Canadian Press

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