2C of global warming could cause 1bn deaths

A STUDY has found that, if global warming reaches or surpasses 2C by 2100, then there is a high probability that over the next century humans, mostly the wealthiest, will be responsible for the deaths of approximately one billion mostly poorer humans.

Joshua Pearce of London’s Western University and Richard Parncutt of the University of Graz in Austria says that “When attempting to quantify future harms caused by carbon emissions and to set appropriate energy policies, it has been argued that the most important metric is the number of human deaths caused by climate change.”

For their paper, the scientists say that they have applied the “1000-ton rule,” according to which a future person is killed every time 1000 tons of fossil carbon are burned (order-of-magnitude estimate).

They say that “If warming reaches or exceeds 2C this century, mainly richer humans will be responsible for killing roughly 1bn mainly poorer humans through anthropogenic global warming, which is comparable with involuntary or negligent manslaughter.

Ecowatch reports that the study advises a substantive and immediate lowering of carbon emissions, as well as accelerated action by governments, corporations and citizens to decarbonize the global economy, with the goal of minimizing the number of human fatalities.

“Such mass death is clearly unacceptable. It’s pretty scary really, especially for our children,” said Pearce, who is Western’s John M. Thompson chair in information technology and innovation and the lead author of the study. “When climate scientists run their models and then report on them, everybody leans toward being conservative, because no one wants to sound like Doctor Doom. We’ve done that here too and it still doesn’t look good.

“Energy numbers like megawatts mean something to energy engineers like me, but not to most people. Similarly, when climate scientists talk about parts per million of carbon dioxide, that doesn’t mean anything to most people. A few degrees of average temperature rise are not intuitive either. Body count, however, is something we all understand.

“If you take the scientific consensus of the 1000-ton rule seriously, and run the numbers, anthropogenic global warming equates to a billion premature dead bodies over the next century. Obviously, we have to act. And we have to act fast.”

Pearce said, “To be clear, predicting the future accurately is hard. The 1000-ton rule is only an order of magnitude best estimate. The number of caused deaths will likely lie between a tenth of a person and 10 people per 1,000 tons. Regardless, the bottom line that we need to act fast is still crystal clear. Global warming is a matter of life or death for a billion people. Almost everyone agrees that every human life is valuable, independent of age, cultural or racial background, gender or financial resources. Therefore, the energy transition will have to change much, much faster, starting now.”

Read the study: Quantifying Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Human Deaths to Guide Energy Policy

Support a practical, investable and inclusive narrative for land use.

Sign-up to receive our newsletter

Newsletter Signup
Contribute for just £2.50 per week
Skip to content