Each year, Future Earth, The Earth League and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) consult researchers and carry out a horizon scan in fields related to climate change on what the latest findings and most important new emerging fields are. They summarize this in 10 important scientific insights, and the result has always been a rich and valuable scientific synthesis for policy and society at large, a testament to the ever-expanding and improving knowledge of our planetary climate systems and the interactions with the human world.
We summarize some of the past year’s most important findings within climate change-related research. New research has improved our understanding of Earth’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide, finds that permafrost thaw could release more carbon emissions than expected and that the uptake of carbon in tropical ecosystems is weakening. Adverse impacts on human society include increasing water shortages and impacts on mental health. Options for solutions emerge from rethinking economic models, rights-based litigation, strengthened governance systems and a new social contract. The disruption caused by COVID-19 could be seized as an opportunity for positive change, directing economic stimulus towards sustainable investments.
A synthesis is made of ten fields within climate science where there have been significant advances since mid-2019, through an expert elicitation process with broad disciplinary scope. Findings include: (1) a better understanding of equilibrium climate sensitivity; (2) abrupt thaw as an accelerator of carbon release from permafrost; (3) changes to global and regional land carbon sinks; (4) impacts of climate change on water crises, including equity perspectives; (5) adverse effects on mental health from climate change; (6) immediate effects on climate of the COVID-19 pandemic and requirements for recovery packages to deliver on the Paris Agreement; (7) suggested long-term changes to governance and a social contract to address climate change, learning from the current pandemic, (8) updated positive cost–benefit ratio and new perspectives on the potential for green growth in the short- and long-term perspective; (9) urban electrification as a strategy to move towards low-carbon energy systems and (10) rights-based litigation as an increasingly important method to address climate change, with recent clarifications on the legal standing and representation of future generations.
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Stronger permafrost thaw, COVID-19 effects and growing mental health impacts among highlights of latest climate science.
Pihl, E., Alfredsson, E., Bengtsson, M., Bowen, K. J., Broto, V. C., Chou, K. T., … & Zelinka, M. D. (2021). Ten new insights in climate science 2020–a horizon scan. Global Sustainability, 4.