The Boiling Point:
2°of Global Warming

The high pressure race for research solutions as we edge toward sustainable climate limits.


150 Heads of State are meeting in Paris over the next two weeks to secure an international accord that aims to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 °C over the pre-Industrial age.

The road to COP21

Global temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions have been rising steadily since 1850.  While this may seem nice to you on a warmer-than-expected November day, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that an increase of just 2 °C can cause devastating and irreversible effects.  In Canada, we could expect wildfires, flooding, and extreme heat.

Though this 2 °C limit has been bandied about since the 70’s, little has been done practically to ensure that we don’t surpass it.  COP15 Copenhagen in 2009 ended with a non-binding agreement to take action to keep temperatures increases below 2 °C.  COP21 in Paris hopes to take this a step further by negotiating an internationally recognized, legally binding agreement.  See a history of climate change negotiations here.

What will it take to stay below 2 °C?

It doesn’t seem like much, but staying below the 2 °C limit for global warming will take some drastic measures.  For example, global greenhouse gas emissions would need to decrease 40-70% by 2050 and by 100% (that’s right, no emissions!) by 2100.  Put another way, the 2 °C limit means we can only burn one trillion tons of carbon ever.  We’ve already gone through more than half of that.

The 2 °C limit for carbon

Some scientists argue that this temperature-based goal is impractical: there are better indicators of planetary health such as ocean heat content or gas emissions that are more easily translated into concrete achievable actions.  We can’t just say “cool the planet”.

So what actions can we take?  A carbon tax is one way to provide incentive, but alternative energy sources and more efficient energy usage will need to replace our coal dependence.

R2R’s sustainable energy rockstars are hard at work

Looking for alternative energy sources?  Prof. Jillian Buriak at the University of Alberta is designing nanomaterials for more efficiency solar cells.  Interesting in making your home more “green”?  Prof. Liat Margolis from the University of Toronto studies the optimal construction of green roofs to maximize environmental performance.   Want to reduce the amount of energy that’s wasted?  Prof. James Cotton from McMaster University is focused on converting waste heat from commercial ovens into electricity. How can we predict and prepare for the effects of climate change? Prof. Dick Peltier from the University of Toronto is modeling the occurrence of extreme weather events in Ontario.

Innovation for the massive adaptation that we’ll need to make to deal with climate change starts here.  Today’s research, tomorrow’s reality.

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Malgosia Pakulska is a freelance science writer, speaker, and blogger. She completed her PhD in Professor Molly Shoichet’s lab studying drug delivery systems for spinal cord regeneration after injury. She is still passionate about research and wants to share that excitement with the public. When she is not in the lab, she is experimenting in the kitchen and blogging about it at Smart Cookie Bakes.