The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) held a press conference on Monday, October 8th, to present a new report on the impacts of climate change. The report consults research from over 6,000 studies and includes contributions from 133 authors. The report has review editors from 40 countries, and 91 lead authors. U.S. economists William Nordhaus and Paul Romer won the Nobel Prize for Economics for their contributions.
The report is unique in that it presents research about the risks associated with climate change in a radically different framework from other studies. It compares research related to the Paris Agreement targets of keeping global warming below the 2ºC mark, with a lower target of an increase of 1.5ºC. This is the first interdisciplinary report which clearly demonstrates the benefits of immediate actions against global warming and climate change.
As presented at the conference, the report makes it clear that, since pre-industrial times, human activity has caused approximately 1ºC of global warming. This change in temperature has had visible effects, as extreme weather events ranging from torrential rains to choking droughts become more common. The effects can also be seen in sea level rises in major cities around the world, Miami being just one example. These sea level rises persist despite current government action and the wide-scale use of large water pumps throughout affected areas.
The study projects that, unless immediate action is taken, we can expect to see an increase of 1.5ºC as early as 2030. In order to reach the 1.5ºC or 2ºC targets, global CO2 emissions will need to reach net zero levels by 2050 or 2075 respectively.
The data presented, which calculates the potential associated costs of the different targets, presents a choice for action. The potential consequences include an increased rate of biodiversity loss, 50% more populations exposed to water shortages, and several hundred million additional people who would be more susceptible to climate related risks and poverty by 2050.
When put this way, it becomes clear that the costs of not acting against climate change have the potential to become astronomically greater in our not-so-distant future.
Global warming and climate change are presented as a threat we will have to deal with. As the cost of delayed action against global warming and climate change grows each day, the question becomes, ‘how long are we going to wait before it becomes impossible to manage this thing?’
An unprecedented level of action is necessary if the 1.5ºC target is to be reached. Changes would include measures to reduce CO2 emissions in all industry sectors, changes in land management and the behaviour of individuals, increased government action, and shifts to low-carbon investments, to name just a few.
A significant result of the report, the panelists in South Korea said, is that it has now become clear that we need to strengthen informal and non-governmental aspects of society if civil society is to fulfill its role in achieving these targets.
The issue is no longer about climate change alone. Not acting against climate change becomes a humanitarian and moral issue when you consider the many areas of our lives it will affect.
However, it is important to recognize that these positive steps toward meeting the targets would also contribute to the success of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and have numerous other beneficial spill-over effects. This means that action against climate change should move to the top of our individual and collective to-do list.
This point is perhaps best made in an article by National Observer in reference to the findings of the report and the consequent challenges.
“Just to say it is to make clear the challenge. Science is the discipline of seeing the world as it is. Politics is the art of the possible. Right now there is a very large gap between the two.”
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