Last updated:
April 11, 2024

Pre-industrial Levels

What are Pre-industrial Levels?

Pre-industrial levels refer to the global atmospheric conditions, particularly concerning greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations and global temperatures, that existed before the widespread impact of industrialisation. This period is generally considered to be before the year 1750, a time before the extensive burning of fossil fuels began to significantly increase the levels of CO2 and other GHGs in the atmosphere. Understanding pre-industrial levels is vital for assessing the extent of human-induced climate change and setting targets for climate action.

The Importance of Pre-industrial Levels in Climate Science

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) uses pre-industrial levels as a baseline to evaluate the earth's warming due to human activities. This comparison helps scientists, policymakers, and the public to better understand the magnitude of climate change and the urgency of implementing mitigation strategies to limit global warming.

Setting Targets:

The Paris Agreement and IPCC Pathways

The Paris Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels." This goal is supported by various IPCC pathways, which outline scenarios for reducing GHG emissions to meet these temperature targets. The pathways include immediate and significant emissions reductions across all sectors, transitioning to renewable energy sources, and implementing carbon capture and storage technologies.

Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi)

The Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) encourages corporations to set emission reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement goals. By aligning corporate strategies with the latest climate science, SBTi aims to drive ambitious corporate action to reduce GHG emissions and prevent the most damaging effects of climate change. The initiative provides companies with a clear framework for defining and reporting on their climate goals, ensuring consistency with a 1.5°C or well below 2°C warming pathway.

Understanding Different Climate Pathways

The climate pathways outlined by the IPCC and supported by international agreements and frameworks like the SBTi include:

  • 1.5°C Pathway: Requires rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban, and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. This pathway necessitates global net zero CO2 emissions around 2050 and significant reductions in other GHG emissions.
  • 2°C Pathway: Allows for a less rapid transition and somewhat later peaking of emissions, aiming for net zero CO2 emissions shortly after 2050. This pathway still requires substantial emissions reductions and significant changes in all sectors.

The Role of Pre-industrial Levels in Climate Action

Referencing pre-industrial levels helps to frame the global climate crisis in a historical context, highlighting the significant impact human activities have had on the planet. It serves as a critical reference point for international agreements like the Paris Agreement and frameworks such as the IPCC reports and SBTi, guiding global efforts to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts.

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