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International agreements, such as the Paris Agreement, have been reached that specify that, in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change, global warming needs to be limited to no more than 1.5⁰C above pre-industrial levels by 2050. However, a recent authoritative study entitled the ‘Hamburg Climate Futures Outlook 2023’, which has been released by Germany’s Universität Hamburg’s Cluster of Excellence Climate, Climatic Change, and Society (CLICCS), reviewed by 20 international experts, concluded that this goal will not be achieved with prevailing social attitudes. The report, which is updated annually, analyses both the physical and social dynamics attributed to populations and assesses which climate futures are not just possible but plausible.

For the ‘Climate Futures Outlook’ report, an interdisciplinary team of 63 researchers systematically assessed the extent to which social changes are already underway worldwide.  The team also analyses physical processes that are widely regarded as important climate change tipping points. They concluded that social change is essential to meeting the temperature goals set at the Paris Agreement, but what has been achieved to date is insufficient. As a result, they recommend that climate resilience and adaptation will also need to be regarded as part of the solution to climate change.

Although numerous climate protection measures have already been implemented internationally, production and consumption patterns, and a staggered response from the industrial sector to the crisis, are delaying the further implementation of these measures.

On the other hand, key mechanisms, such as the United Nations’ climate policies, new environmental legislation, worldwide climate protests and the steady growth of the renewable energy sector, are supporting efforts to meet the climate goals. While these positive developments will accelerate our progress towards decarbonising economies, the researchers concluded that these changes will not be enough for us to achieve the 1.5⁰C limit in temperature rise.

In addition, the research team assessed certain physical processes that are widely regarded as tipping points. The loss of Arctic sea ice and melting of ice sheets are serious developments, but they will have very little influence on the global temperature by 2050. In contrast, the thawing permafrost, a weakened system of ocean currents that carry warm water from the tropics northwards, and the loss of the Amazonian rain forest are more important factors. According to a spokesman for the CLICCS, Professor Jochem Marotzke from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, these tipping points could drastically change the conditions for life on Earth, but they are still largely irrelevant in terms of reaching the temperature targets set by the Paris Agreement.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have complicated matters further, as economic reconstruction programmes may reinforce dependence on fossil fuels. This means that the necessary attitudinal changes are now less likely to take place with economic pressure and an ongoing energy crisis. Furthermore, efforts to safeguard Europe’s power supply and the international community’s attempts to become independent of Russian gas may further undermine the phasing out of fossil fuels in the long run.

According to a German study, the best hope for shaping a positive climate future lies in the ability of society to make fundamental attitudinal changes. In addition, the study emphasises that transnational initiatives, increased efforts by the private sector in support of climate protection, and protests that maintain pressure on politicians are all vital initiatives.

But the researchers also warn that if we fail to meet the climate goals, adapting to climate change impacts will become more important. In order to be equipped for a warmer world, we will have to anticipate environmental and social changes. Instead of just reacting, we will need to initiate a proactive transformation in response to climate change.

Informal educational institutions such as museums and science centres will play a vital role in this regard as they have direct access to the general public and are equipped to demystify complex climate science and make it understandable to everyone. They are also well equipped to convey the message that everyone has a role to play in the fight against climate change and to indicate the required changes in attitude and behaviour that need to be made in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

At formula D_, we aim to produce highly engaging, multimedia experiences and exhibitions that explore ideas around climate science, climate change and our need to respond with mitigative and preventative measures.