There's a 95 percent chance the world will warm beyond a crucial tipping point — here's what that means

By 2100, the world will be different.

A newly published study estimates that there's a 95% chance global temperatures will rise more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. That's the level that's frequently considered the tipping point beyond which the consequences of climate change become catastrophic.

The goal of the Paris Agreement was to set emissions standards that could keep the world from hitting that point — ideally less than a 1.5-degree increase — though experts noted that global reductions would have to be even more aggressive to truly accomplish that aim.

But according to the authors of the new study, it's extremely unlikely that we'll be able to stay below the 2-degree threshold.

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Climate change impact in Tangier, Virginia
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Climate change impact in Tangier, Virginia
A waterman sets out to set crab traps as the sun rises in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A grave stone rests on the beach where a cemetery once stood but has been washed away due to erosion in an area called Canaan in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge sets out to check his crab traps during the early morning in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge feeds his cats as he checks on his soft shell crabs at his shanty during the early morning in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Waterman Tabby Crockett (L) sells his peeler crabs to Mayor and waterman James Eskridge in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge's tattoo of the Jesus fish adorns his arm as he points out areas that have been completely eroded away in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
An abandoned outboard boat motor sits against the man-made sea wall that was engineered by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1999 to prevent erosion in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun rises while a waterman passes crab shanties as he sets out for the day in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge checks on his soft shell crabs at his shanty during the early morning in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A cross stands at the mouth of the harbor reading 'Jesus is Life' in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Erosion eats away at the tip of the Uppards in an area called Canaan in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A grave stone rests on the beach where a cemetery once stood but has been washed away due to erosion in an area called Canaan in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Four-year-old Parker Shores walks down the middle of the street with his action figure toys in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Teenage boys play baseball on a dirt lot in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge checks on his soft shell crabs at his shanty during the early morning in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Danny Parks mans the fuel docks in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A waterman returns to the harbor with crab traps in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
An area in the Uppards called Canaan where erosion has taken away what was once a settlement area with homes in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Army Corps of Engineers scientist Dave Schulte sits on the side of a boat as he rides out to check on current erosion to the Uppards in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge (L) speaks with waterman Rudy Parks (R) from the crab shanties in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge stands on the peir speaking with his son William Eskridge in the early morning before setting out for a day of crabbing in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Supports jet out of the water where crab shanties used to stand on a patch of land now surrounded by water in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A boat line and the shell of a crab sit on the pier in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
William Eskridge pulls just caught crabs from a bucket in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Crab trap buoys hang from a fence in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A crane flies away with a crab in its mouth in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The water of the Chesapeake Bay crashes against the man-made sea wall that was engineered by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1999 to prevent erosion in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Waterman Bruce Gordy (R) talks with fellow waterman Allen Crockett (L), Frank Pruitt (2L), Robert Crockett (3L), Mayor James Eskridge (C) and Richard Pruitt (2R) during a meeting called 'The Situation Room' to discuss ongoing local concerns in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Benjamin Eskridge (L) carries a crab trap as he helps his grandfather Allen Crocket (R) prepare for the next day of crabbing in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
An abandoned crab trap rest on the beach surf in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun sets on a cross reading 'Christ is Life' on a waterway in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A submerged boats rests under a bridge in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
William Eskridge pulls just caught crabs from a bucket and his grandchildren look over his shoulder in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Waterman Richard Pruitt looks on a during a meeting called 'The Situation Room' held with other senior local waterman in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Swamp grass and standing water take over the front yard of a home in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun sets over houses on the West Ridge neighborhood in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun sets in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun sets on a guard rail where love letters have been scribed on a bridge in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
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Even if we do take action on emissions, the authors suggest, we'll still probably see a median temperature rise of 3.2 degrees Celsius. That's based on their expectations for global population growth, rising GDP per capita, and the amount of carbon dioxide that can be expected to be emitted based on those GDP levels.

That's significantly higher than the temperature rise that many experts said would lead to drastic consequences.

'If not hell, then a place with a similar temperature'

"Huge swaths of the world will be living in places that by the end of the century will have heat waves so deep that people won't be able to deal with them, you have sea level rising dramatically, to the point that most of the world's cities are drowning, the ocean turning into a hot, sour, breathless soup as it acidifies and warms," environmentalist and author Bill McKibben recently told Business Insider.

McKibben's predictions for what that warm world would look like weren't pretty.

"If not hell, then a place with a similar temperature," he said. "We have in the Earth's geological record some sense of what happens when you run carbon levels up to the levels we're running them now — it gets a lot hotter."

The gases we've put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels so far already guarantee that the world will continue to get warmer.

Another paper published July 31 argued that it's fairly likely we've already "committed to" around 1 degree C of warming — and that there's a 13% chance we've already guaranteed 1.5 degrees. Even if the world stopped emitting carbon dioxide today, that course might already be set.

"Our estimates are based on things that have already happened, things we can observe, and they point to the part of future warming that is already committed to by past emissions," Thorsten Mauritsen, lead author of that paper, said in a press release. "Future carbon dioxide emissions will then add extra warming on top of that commitment."

Reasons for hope

It might be tempting to respond to these predictions by throwing up our hands, further condemning future generations to suffer the consequences. But that ignores the most important thing that these two new papers highlight: By the calculations of these researchers, it is still possible to make changes that could prevent us from hitting these levels of warming.

Despite decades of inaction on climate, there are movements now that offer some encouragement. Activists around the world are pushing countries to take steps that could prevent warming from getting too out of hand. In the U.S., cities and states have vowed to try to meet the country's Paris Agreement goals despite the fact that President Donald Trump plans to pull the US out of that accord.

There are also a growing number of lawsuits around the globe that argue governments are violating their citizens' constitutional rights by engaging in actions that contribute to climate change despite long-held knowledge of its dangerous consequences.

There are even natural economic trends towards clean energy and away from fossil fuels.

These efforts may not stop the world from warming 2 degrees. But they could — or might at least limit warming to 2.5 degrees instead of 4.

Some researchers, like climate scientist James Hansen, think we may need to develop "negative emissions" technologies that would allow us to suck carbon out of the atmosphere and store it away. There are even last-ditch geoengineering schemes that might offer ways to buy more time to deal with the problem (though many experts hope it never gets to that point).

But if we want to prevent the most dire effects of rising global temperatures, action needs to be taken sooner rather than later. These two new papers highlight just how urgent that threat is.

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