Nov. 6 (UPI) -- Climate change has already caused sea levels to rise, and new research suggests warming air and ocean temps are going to continue to melt glaciers and promote higher seas. But how quickly sea levels rise, researchers contend, depends on how fast the world's governments can shrink carbon emissions to zero.
According to a new study, even if countries meet all of their emissions reduction targets set by the 2015 Paris Agreement by 2030, those 15 years of CO2 emissions will bake another 8 inches of sea-level rise into the system.
The study, published this week in the journal PNAS, is the first to calculate the effects of projected post-Paris Agreement emissions on sea level rise.
"Our results show that what we do today will have a huge effect in 2300," Alexander Nauels, researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said in a news release. "Twenty centimeters is very significant; it is basically as much sea-level rise as we've observed over the entire 20th century. To cause that with only 15 years of emissions is quite staggering."
Because ocean and ice systems are slower to respond to warming than other natural systems, warming now ensures melting and sea level rise later.
"The true consequences of our emissions on sea-level rise unfold over centuries," Nauels said. "The more carbon we release now the more sea-level rise we are locking in for the future."
The majority of carbon emissions, and thus the majority of sea level rise, can be attributed to the economies of China, the United States, the European Union, India and Russia.
Though the latest evidence suggests that even the current Paris Agreement commitments can't prevent long-term sea level rise, the study's authors claim more aggressive actions today will slow the rate of sea level rise moving forward.
"Governments urgently need to put forward much stronger emission reduction pledges, or NDCs, by 2020 in order to decarbonize at a pace in line with the Paris Agreement's 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature goal and avoid further burdening future generations," said climate scientist Carl-Friedrich Schleussner.
The faster the world's economies can become carbon neutral, the less seas will rise and the slower sea level rise will happen, allowing coastal cities more time to adapt.