There is a very real possibility the planet will warm by an average of 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) this century—and that would be catastrophic.
In such a brutally hot world, scientists agree that deadly heat waves, massive wildfires and damaging rain will occur much more frequently and be much more severe than today. The sea will also become warmer and more acidic, causing fewer fish and the likely end of coral reefs. In fact, a quarter or so of Earth’s species could become extinct under such conditions or be headed in that direction. Our coastlines would be reshaped, the result of sea level rise foot by foot, century by century, drowning places like Charleston, South Carolina’s Market Street, downtown Providence, Rhode Island, and the Space Center in Houston.
All of this would be, as climate scientist Daniel Swain of the University of California, Los Angeles put it bad: “Bad for humans. Bad for ecosystems. Bad for the stability of earth systems on which we humans depend for everything.”
Experts cannot say exactly how likely this future is because it depends on what humanity does to mitigate the worsening climate crisis, especially in the coming decade. But for world leaders gathering this weekend in Glasgow for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), that future may well become inevitable if they do not agree to more aggressive and immediate measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions.