What the 2030 climate deadline really means

October 2019—We are slightly more than 10 years away from the deadline established by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), but as that warning gets distilled and simplified, the message is getting distorted. It does not mean we have 10 years to do nothing or that in 10 years the world will fall apart and everyone will die.

What is the climate goal coming up in slightly more than 10 years?

The number began drawing attention in 2018, when the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report describing what it would take to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal of the Paris climate agreement. The report explained that countries would have to cut their anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, such as from power plants and vehicles, to net zero by around 2050. To reach that goal, it said, CO2 emissions would have to start dropping "well before 2030" and be on a path to fall by about 45 percent by around 2030 (12 years away at that time).

So what does that mean? This article does a nice job of explaining the thinking behind the 2030 goal.

Mid-century is actually the more significant target date in the report, but acting now is crucial to being able to meet that goal, said Duke University climate researcher Drew Shindell, a lead author on the mitigation chapter of the IPCC report.

"We need to get the world on a path to net zero CO2 emissions by mid-century," Shindell said. "That's a huge transformation, so that if we don't make a good start on it during the 2020s, we won't be able to get there at a reasonable cost."

These guidelines come from simple math, calculating how to keep global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees C.