SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The world may have less time to address dangerous rising levels of global warming than previously believed, according to a new study.

A team of scientists in Australia have come up with a new model that challenges previous predictions, and takes into consideration population growth and rising increasing energy demand in the poorest parts of the world. They predict that world average temperatures could rise by 1.5 degrees as early as 2020.

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They published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Nations at the 2015 UN Conference on Climate Change agreed to keep the rise in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably limiting it to 1.5 degrees to protect island states,” says Professor Ben Hankamer from University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB). He developed the new model along with Dr. Liam Wagner of Griffith University.

“Our model shows we may have less time left than expected to prevent world temperature from rising above these thresholds,” he says.

The adoption of a 1.5 degrees Celsius limit in the final Paris Agreement was seen as a huge win for climate activists from nations vulnerable to rising sea-levels. For low-lying island countries like the Maldives and the Marshall Islands, warming to 2 degrees Celsius would be disastrous.

This photo taken on March 3, 2014 shows a resident surrounded by the on-rushing high tide energized by a storm surge that damaged a number of homes across Majuro.   It was the third inundation of the Marshall's capital atoll in the past 12 months. (Photo credit should read Karl Fellenius/AFP/Getty Images)

This photo taken on March 3, 2014 shows a resident surrounded by the on-rushing high tide energized by a storm surge that damaged a number of homes across Majuro. It was the third inundation of the Marshall’s capital atoll in the past 12 months. (Photo credit should read Karl Fellenius/AFP/Getty Images)

The study outlines three major roadblocks to meeting the goals set in Paris: exponential fossil fuel consumption if renewable sources are not “rapidly scaled up,” energy security in the face of mandated CO2 emission controls, and the “pro growth” strategies necessary to alleviate poverty.

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“Very hard choices will have to be made to achieve ‘sustainable development’ goals,” according to the researchers.

In a press release, Wagner challenges the assumption that increased energy efficiency will necessarily be met with a decrease in demand.

“As we get more efficient at manufacturing, goods get cheaper and we buy more,” he said. Furthermore, he believes it will take massive increases in energy consumption to alleviate poverty. “We have a choice: leave people in poverty and speed towards dangerous global warming through the increased use of fossil fuels, or transition rapidly to renewables.”

A Chinese resident walks out of her house her house next to a coal fired power plant in Shanxi.  (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

A Chinese resident walks out of her house her house next to a coal fired power plant in Shanxi. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Professor Hankamer says the switch from CO2-emitting fossil fuels to renewable energy is crucial and can’t happen fast enough.

“The sun is by far the largest renewable energy source,” he said. “In just two hours it delivers enough solar energy to the Earth’s surface to power the entire global economy for a year – and now is the time to make the switch.”


CBSSF.com writer, producer Jan Mabry is also executive producer and host of The Bronze Report. She lives in Northern California. Follow her on Twitter @janmabr.

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