A desert landscape, which may become more common as average land temperatures continue to rise.

Photo: Shutterstock

For years, climate scientists have been making the case that we can and must limit the increase of the average global temperature to no more than two degrees Celsius compared to temperatures before widespread industrialization.

A recent study finds that may be harder to do than we expected.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, has found that temperatures over land will continue to rise until the world finds a kind of climate equilibrium, even if we manage to keep greenhouse gas emissions at current levels.

Presently the oceans are acting as a massive heat sink, which brings down the rate of increase in the average global temperature, but doesn’t do much to impact rising land temperatures.

Eventually the oceans will have exhausted their ability to function as a heat sink, and the globe will reach equilibrium at a higher temperature than previously predicted.

“Even if carbon dioxide were somehow stabilized at current levels, additional warming will occur as we move towards an equilibrium state,” said lead author Dr. Chris Huntingford from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

What this means is that even if the average global temperature change is limited to only two degrees, land temperatures are going to be warmer than that. This will impact most of human life, and a lot of plant and animal life as well.

That may not be easy, though, but knowing what we do about how temperatures work over land versus over water, we can develop better ways to address those temperature changes.

Increased land temperatures will require us to find new or modified ways to mange crops, cities, livestock and natural spaces.

Of all life on the planet, humans are the best able to adapt to rising temperatures. We know what’s happening and why. Our plant and animal neighbors, however, are stuck relying on us to undo or mitigate the problems we’ve caused for the whole neighborhood.