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It's unlikely that humans will achieve global warming goals. But all is not lost

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

It is unlikely that humans will limit global warming to the target set by the Paris Climate Agreement. That's according to a new study. NPR's Rebecca Hersher reports that doesn't mean all is lost.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: The Paris Climate Agreement set a goal - limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to temperatures in the late 1800s. And ideally, allow no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. That 1.5 is not a magic number. It's an estimate of when some of the most catastrophic effects of climate change kick in - like mass extinctions, 10 feet of sea level rise, that kind of thing. But the new study confirms what other research has already suggested - it's unlikely that humans will limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Joeri Rogelj of Imperial College London is one of the authors.

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JOERI ROGELJ: It is clear that likelihood options for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees are gone. And they have been gone for a while, to be honest.

HERSHER: Five years ago it was about 50/50 whether humans could hit the 1.5-degree goal if we cut greenhouse gases from tailpipes and smokestacks. But those emissions are still rising, just slower than they were before. Today, the study estimates we have about a 1 in 6 chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees - so not likely, says Rogelj, but not no chance.

ROGELJ: It's most definitely not zero and most definitely not unworthy of pursuit.

HERSHER: We should keep trying, he says, by cutting emissions as quickly as possible. But also, the findings suggest that we should be prepared to exceed 1.5 degrees of warming. That's probably what's going to happen, which is bad. But it's not literally the end of the world because 1.5 degrees isn't like a cliff where we're doomed as soon as we step over the edge. Christopher Smith of the University of Leeds is another author of the new study.

CHRISTOPHER SMITH: If we are able to limit warming to 1.6 degrees or 1.65 degrees or 1.7 degrees, that's a lot better than 2 degrees. We still need to fight for every tenth of a degree.

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HERSHER: There are some signs of progress on that front. Renewable energy is growing rapidly, and global fossil fuel use could peak as soon as this year, according to a recent report. So even if 1.5 degrees is slipping away, 1.6 or 1.7 is still within our grasp. Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KACEY MUSGRAVES SONG "HIGH HORSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Rebecca Hersher
Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.