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2050 Challenge

Population growth to just under 10 billion, as well as the need to decarbonise pose the biggest challenge to humanity yet
© UCL Institute for Global Prosperity
2050 will be a big year for the global community. By then, the population is set to explode to just under 10 billion people. That is approximately a 42% increase from where we are at today, meaning there will be a huge pressure on resources if our aim is more than just survival.
Added to this, we are the first generation of the Anthropocene – the new geological age where humans are the primary influencers and shapers of our climate and environment. This means that our actions and decisions today and over the next decades can influence the environment we depend on for many generations to come. This places extraordinary responsibility on our shoulders.

The Paris Climate Agreement

Article 2 of the 2015 Paris Agreement is “stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. That means make sure we don’t emit enough greenhouse gas to dangerously change our climate. To avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference” – permanent change to the benevolent environment we’ve been enjoying – warming should not be greater than 1.5ºC and cannot go 2ºC above pre-industrial levels without risking devastating impacts.
In order to limit temperature increase to 1.5ºC, the Paris Agreement sets out the need “to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”. In plain English, this means that in order to stay within the 1.5ºC limit, we need to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Why 2ºC?

If we go 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, we risk setting off a chain reaction that could be disastrous and lead to far greater temperature increases. For example, a recent Yale study predicts that moderate warming could lead to the release of more carbon dioxide from soil than any country in the world, except for the USA and China. There are many other similar scenarios of moderate heating causing natural stores of gas to release their greenhouse gasses, setting off a spiral effect.
The most important thing to take from this framework is that the systems we depend on are extremely fragile. Without drastic changes to our economic practices between now and 2050, we will plunge our selves into an era of climactic uncertainty, making survival, yet alone flourishing, far more difficult for many people.
© UCL Institute for Global Prosperity
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