Even if climate change is limited to 2°C, sea levels will still rise by 25 meters over the next 2,000 years—and stay at those levels for at least 10,000 years—significantly impacting the current global landscape, thus driving mass migrations of humans and animals. However, if the burning of fossil fuels continues unabated, the sea could rise as much as 50 meters, “changing the map of the world,” as the Guardian notes.

“For islands and coastal cities, the timing and rate of global emission reductions is therefore of existential importance,” says Pfister.

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What’s more, ongoing emissions will only worsen ocean acidification. The study’s climate models found that a “near-complete loss” of healthy marine ecosystems such as coral reefs “becomes imminent if emission reductions are delayed by few years to decades…depending on the achievable reduction rate.”

“The long-term view sends the chilling message of what the real risks and consequences are of the fossil fuel era,” said climate physicist Thomas Stocker, also with the University of Bern, who helped conduct the study. “It will commit us to massive adaptation efforts so that for many, dislocation and migration becomes the only option.”

The authors conclude: “The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far.”

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