If societies cut emissions in half would the pace of climate change slow or accelerate?

June 2024

It would accelerate.

Climate change is caused by the rising concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Every year, the concentration rises. If societies cut emissions by 50% the concentration will still rise, just more slowly than before.

Take CO2 as an example. In 1820, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was 280ppm (parts per million). Today it is 426ppm, and rising by around 4ppm every year. If we cut emissions by 50%, instead of rising by 4ppm each year, it will rise by 2ppm. It will still rise, and the pace of climate change will accelerate.

If societies actually want to slow the pace of change, they need to cut emissions to ZERO and then suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, until it is back at safe levels. They can do that with carbon capture technology, by planting trees and sea grasses, or by waiting thousands of years for nature to do the job itself.

Net zero doesn’t slow the pace of climate change because it doesn’t reduce the CONCENTRATION of gases. So when someone says “our country will hit net-zero in 2050” what they are really saying is “our country will stop making the problem worse in a quarter of a century.”

Photo: Simone Secci