Global warming goals impossible, Nobel laureate tells Swiss paper

William Nordhaus, who won a Nobel Prize for Economics in 2018, is best known for his work in economic modeling and climate change. Keystone

It will be impossible to meet the goal of keeping global temperature rise this century to under two degrees, American Nobel prizewinner William Nordhaus has told a Swiss newspaper.

This content was published on January 26, 2020 - 15:11

Climate and economic modelling expert Nordhaus, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2018, told the NZZ am Sonntag that half of the existing model calculations come to this conclusion.

"Even if we make the fastest possible turn towards zero emissions, CO2 will continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, because we cannot simply shut down our economy," he said in an interview with the paper. Nordhaus says the two-degree target was also set without asking about the cost of meeting it.

A key goal of the Paris Agreement on climate change is to keep global warming this century under two degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels.

Meanwhile, a University of Geneva (UNIGE) studyExternal link says people often find it difficult to change their behaviour in response to climate change. But it identifies some of the barriers and suggests ways to overcome them.

According to UNIGE psychology professor Tobias Brosch, one of the difficulties concerns the perception of the problem. The human brain struggles to conceive of the phenomenon, which we can neither feel nor touch directly. Virtual reality could help to raise awareness of the consequences of a rise in temperature, he says.

Another barrier concerns immediate self-interest. Some people do not see how changing their behaviour is beneficial to them. Brosch recommends that emphasis should be put on the direct benefits of changing habits, such as cycling is good for health.

Another big barrier is social, the study says. It is hard to give something up when your neighbour isn't doing anything to protect the climate. Brosch thinks the solution would be to communicate as much as possible that many people are doing something for the climate, so as to encourage others.


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