Leaked UN Report Shows Failure to Swiftly Act on Climate Change Results in Catastrophic Harm
29 August, 2014
the past week, various sources have leaked information passed on to
them by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The reports highlighted stark consequences for continued failure by
policy makers to act, providing a general view of rapidly approaching
a terrible and very difficult to navigate global crisis.
on the Edge of a Global Food Crisis
first weak link for human resiliency to climate change may well be in
our ability to continue to supply food to over 7 billion people as
weather and sea level rise takes down previously productive
agricultural regions. And the leaked UN report hints at a currently
stark global food situation in the face of a risk for rising crisis.
the Mekong Delta, as with more and more agricultural regions around
the world, by August of 2014, global warming was already a rampant
Vietnamese government this year made efforts to stem the effects of
warming-driven sea level rise and saltwater invasion as 700,000
hectares of rice paddy farmland in one of the world’s most
productive regions came under threat. But the efforts have not
entirely prevented intrusion and many plants show the tell-tale
yellowed leaves that result from salt water leeching into the
low-lying freshwater fields that have, for so long, yielded a bounty
of grain. Many
farmers are now facing losses of up to 50% for crops that used to
produce like clockwork year-in, year out.
This year, the salt water has intruded as far as 40 to 50 kilometers
inland, delivering a substantial blow to the region’s agriculture.
But the potential effects, given even the IPCC’s conservative
projections of sea level rise in the range of 29 to 82 more
centimeters this century, are stark for this and other low-lying
5 Terrifying Facts From the Leaked UN Climate Report
A massive "ice island" breaks free from the Petermann Glacier in Greenland in 2012. Rex Features/AP
28 August, 2014
How many synonyms for "grim" can I pack into one article? I had to consult the thesaurus: ghastly, horrid, awful, shocking, grisly, gruesome.
This week, a big report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was leaked before publication, and it confirmed, yet again, the grim—dire, frightful—reality the we face if we don't slash our global greenhouse gas emissions, and slash them fast.
This "Synthesis Report," to be released in November following a UN conference in Copenhagen, is still subject to revision. It is intended to summarize three previous UN climate publications and to "provide an integrated view" to the world's governments of the risks they face from runaway carbon pollution, along with possible policy solutions.
As expected, the document contains a lot of what had already been reported after the three underpinning reports were released at global summits over the past year. It's a long list of problems: sea level rise resulting in coastal flooding, crippling heat waves and multidecade droughts, torrential downpours, widespread food shortages, species extinction, pest outbreaks, economic damage, and exacerbated civil conflicts and poverty.
But in general, the 127-page leaked report provides starker language than the previous three, framing the crisis as a series of "irreversible" ecological and economic catastrophes that will occur if swift action is not taken.
Here are five particularly grim—depressing, distressing, upsetting, worrying, unpleasant—takeaways from the report.
1. Our efforts to combat climate change have been grossly inadequate. The report says that anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase from 1970 to 2010, at a pace that ramped up especially quickly between 2000 and 2010. That's despite some regional action that has sought to limit emissions, including carbon-pricing schemes in Europe. We haven't done enough, the United Nations says, and we're already seeing the effects of inaction. "Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history," the report says. "The climate changes that have already occurred have had widespread and consequential impacts on human and natural systems."
2. Keeping global warming below the internationally agreed upon 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (above preindustrial levels) is going to be very hard. To keep warming below this limit, our emissions need to be slashed dramatically. But at current rates, we'll pump enough greenhouse gas into the atmosphere to sail past that critical level within the next 20 to 30 years, according to the report. We need to emit half as much greenhouse gas for the remainder of this century as we've already emitted over the past 250 years. Put simply, that's going to be difficult—especially when you consider the fact that global emissions are growing, not declining, every year. The report says that to keep temperature increases to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, deep emissions cuts of between 40 and 70 percent are needed between 2010 and 2050, with emissions "falling towards zero or below" by 2100.
3. We'll probably see nearly ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean before mid-century. The report says that in every warming scenario it the scientists considered, we should expect to see year-round reductions in Arctic sea ice. By 2050, that will likely result in strings of years in which there is the near absence of sea ice in the summer, following a well-established trend. And then there's Greenland, where glaciers have been retreating since the 1960s—increasingly so after 1993—because of man-made global warming. The report says we may already be facing a situation in which Greenland's ice sheet will vanish over the next millennium, contributing up to 23 feet of sea level rise.
4. Dangerous sea level rise will very likely impact 70 percent of the world's coastlines by the end of the century. The report finds that by 2100, the devastating effects of sea level rise—including flooding, infrastructure damage, and coastal erosion—will impact the vast majority of the world's coastlines. That's not good: Half the world's population lives within 37 miles of the sea, and three-quarters of all large cities are located on the coast, according to the United Nations. The sea has already risen significantly: From 1901 to 2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.62 feet.
5. Even if we act now, there's a real risk of "abrupt and irreversible" changes. The carbon released by burning fossil fuels will stay in the atmosphere and the seas for centuries to come, the report says, even if we completely stop emitting CO2 as soon as possible. That means it's virtually certain that global mean sea level rise will continue for many centuries beyond 2100. Without strategies to reduce emissions, the world will see 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming above preindustrial temperatures by the end of the century, condemning us to "substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, [and] consequential constraints on common human activities."
What's more, the report indicates that without action, the effects of climate change could be irreversible: "Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems."