Study: A hotter climate is pretty much baked in

An indicator board displays a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100 fahrenheit) in the French southern city of Toulouse, on Aug. 17, 2012.

The goal of U.N. climate talks in Doha, Qatar, is to keep atmospheric warming within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. That's 3.6 Fahrenheit.

But a new academic tally from the Global Carbon Project finds emissions peaked again in 2011, and are likely to set a new record in 2012 as well. Lead scientist Glen Peters in Norway says with every new power plant built, emissions are locked in.

"The decisions we made yesterday and the year before are going to be affecting emissions for the next 10, 20, 30 even 50 years ahead," Peters says.

And since any global deal will likely take effect in a decade or so, there's more time between now and then for more factories and more cars on the road.

"Then that loses 10 years," Peters says. "And it makes it very, very hard to get below 2 degrees. The most likely situation would be at least 2 degrees."

Increasingly, talk and money are moving from simply preventing such a future toward adapting to rising seas and less predictable rainfalls.

Private equity investor Rob Day at Black Coral Capital is betting on stormy weather ahead for agriculture.

"A lot of land that is currently being used for farmland won't be suitable anymore," Day says. "And so farmland as an asset is likely to become more valuable over time. So let's get some now."

Insurance companies are adapting, too. One key modeling firm, RMS, recently updated its assumptions to incorporate more severe events.

"They see higher risk for atlantic hurricanes due to higher sea surface temperatures," says Cynthia McHale of the investor/corporate coalition Ceres. "Based on that, insurance premiums are higher."

Some groups at the Doha talks figure it would take $100 billion to $150 billion a year to pay for poor countries to adapt to a warmer world. The pricetag for developed countries like the U.S.? That's even less known.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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