Well, the end just got a little closer.
A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought, and suggests that avoiding damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”
That’s a lot to be alarmed about.
The report, issued Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders — describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040.
That’s only about a generation away. Looking back, the equivalent is 1996. That’s not a lot of time.
The report “is quite a shock, and quite concerning,” said Bill Hare, an author of previous I.P.C.C. reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics. “We were not aware of this just a few years ago.”
The authors of this report found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. Previous work focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by a larger number, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, because that was the threshold scientists previously considered for the most severe effects of climate change.
Avoiding the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years, said the authors, who estimate the damage would come at a cost of $54 trillion. But while they conclude it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 2.7 degrees of warming, they concede that it may be politically unlikely.
For instance, the report says heavy taxes or prices on carbon dioxide emissions — perhaps as high as $27,000 per ton by 2100 — would be required. Such a move would be politically impossible in the United States, the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China. Lawmakers around the world, including in China, the European Union and California, have enacted carbon pricing programs. Vermont groups also have proposed a tax on fossil fuels.
President Trump has mocked the science of human-caused climate change and vowed to increase the burning of coal. He also intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement.
While climate deniers have been critical of the report, they are being shouted down by climate change believers. The report was written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries who analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies.
That’s a lot of data.
Researchers have used these facts and numbers to paint a picture of the world with a dangerous fever, caused by us. We used to think the changes we would experience would be manageable. Not any more.
Absent very aggressive action, the dire effects once expected several decades in the future will arrive in a matter of years. “It’s telling us we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime,” cautioned Myles Allen, an Oxford University climate scientist and an author of the report.
It’s the final call, scientists warn, and the most extensive call to action yet on the risks of rising global temperatures.
The report says there must be rapid and significant changes in four global systems: energy, land use, cities and industry.
It adds the world cannot meet its target without changes by individuals, urging us to:
— Buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter and more locally sourced, seasonal food.
— Throw less of it away.
— Drive electric cars but walk or cycle short distances; take trains and buses instead of planes.
— Use videoconferencing instead of business travel.
— Use a washing line instead of a tumble dryer.
— Insulate our homes.
— Demand low carbon in every consumer product.
This is not about remote science; it’s about where we live and work. Everyone is going to have to be involved. You might not have control over land use, but you do have control over what you eat and that determines land use. This is the moment where we need to decide to move to clean energy and a sustainable lifestyle. We must protect forests and species.
This is the year when the turning point happens. The hard decisions can no longer be kicked down the road. We’re out of time.
Read the entire report at http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15.