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UC San Diego Climate change panel points to progress

How do you measure progress when it comes to fighting global warming?

In 2015, scientists and policymakers attending the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris agreed to set a goal of limiting Earth’s increase in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

We have failed to do that. We’re at 1.5 degrees already and temperatures are still increasing.


“But that’s the wrong way to measure progress,” said David Victor, a professor of innovation and public policy at UC San Diego. “The right way to measure progress is to look at the track the world was on 15-20 years ago.”

He said back then the world was on track to increase temperatures this century by between 4-5 degrees Celsius.

“Now the world is on track for about 2.5 degrees Celsius of warming. So that’s still a lot of climate change. We’ve got to get ready for that. Prepared for that. It’s important for California and for local communities. But it’s not five, and that’s the real measure of progress,” Victor said.

Victor is one of the panelists featured at a discussion about climate change in UC San Diego’s Great Hall Thursday evening.

The progress of decarbonization, worldwide, is seen most often in the generation of electricity. In some places that means an increased use of solar and wind power. In the United Arab Emirates, which will host this year’s UN Climate Change Conference at the end of this month, it meant investing in nuclear power.


If emissions are still growing, when can we expect them to peak?

“That might happen over the course of the next five to ten years. A lot of that depends on what happens in China. The Chinese emissions are larger than any other country,” Victor said.

Advances in technology have been at the center of progress. And one way to reduce global warming, that’ll be discussed at the UCSD forum, is called solar geoengineering. This means finding ways to reflect sunlight so the sun rays, and their heat, do not reach the Earth.

Graphic shows the workings of solar geoengineering, which cools earth temperatures by reflecting sunlight. Undated.
Courtesy of UC San Diego
This undated graphic shows the workings of solar geoengineering, which cools Earth temperatures by reflecting sunlight.

“The main way people are talking about doing this is by putting aerosols, small reflective particles, into the stratosphere,” said professor Kate Ricke, a climate scientist at UCSD.

This has happened in natural ways. For instance, when the volcano Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991 and blasted volcanic ash into the stratosphere.

“After that happened we actually observed global temperatures dropping,” Ricke said.

Artificially putting reflective particles into our atmosphere is possible but risky. Ricke points out there is no global jurisdiction that would regulate it. The lack of a global government adds complexity to the fight against global warming.

But Victor said it doesn’t mean state and national governments can’t move forward on their own.

“We have small groups of pioneers of firms, of governments, places like California can go off and do their own thing and move quickly. Show what’s feasible, what’s not feasible and by doing that leadership you make it possible to have followership,” he said. “The more places that emulate that and that’s how these new technologies are going to spread and that’s how we’re actually fixing the climate.”