9 August 2021   Leave a comment

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued its Sixth Assessment Report on the state of the planet’s climate. The previous reports have been very guarded in assessing the role of human action on the global climate, but this year the IPCC is very direct: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”

One should hope that this assessment should put to rest any doubts articulated by climate deniers, but, given the financial interests of the fossil fuel industry, that outcome is unlikely.

The BBC lists the key conclusions of the report:

  • Global surface temperature was 1.09C higher in the decade between 2011-2020 than between 1850-1900.
  • The past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850
  • The recent rate of sea level rise has nearly tripled compared with 1901-1971
  • Human influence is “very likely” (90%) the main driver of the global retreat of glaciers since the 1990s and the decrease in Arctic sea-ice
  • It is “virtually certain” that hot extremes including heatwaves have become more frequent and more intense since the 1950s, while cold events have become less frequent and less severe

The report does not consider the worst outcomes of climate change as inevitable. The New York Times summarizes the range of alternative futures:

“The report laid out five climate futures, in which humans take varying steps to reduce the emissions that cause warming. Under all of them, the world will reach 1.5 degrees — the more ambitious of the targets set by the Paris climate change agreement in 2015 — by 2040 or sooner.

“Under most of the scenarios discussed in the report, warming will continue well beyond 2040, through the remainder of the century. In the worst cases, where the world does little to reduce emissions, temperatures by 2100 could be 3 to 6 degrees Celsius (5.5 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. That would have catastrophic consequences.

“But the report shows that aggressive, rapid and widespread emissions cuts, beginning now, could limit the warming beyond 2050. In the most optimistic scenario, reaching “net zero” emissions could even bring warming back slightly under 1.5 degrees Celsius in the second half of the century.

“Such a scenario would be a mammoth and expensive undertaking for the world. It would also require a level of political will that most governments have so far been unable to muster.”

The difficulties in achieving effective action are profound:

“UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the report a ‘code red’ for humanity, adding that it ‘must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy the planet.’

“The US government’s Climate Envoy, John Kerry, said the IPCC report shows that ‘we cannot afford further delay,’ adding that ‘climate change is transforming our planet in unprecedented ways, with far-reaching effects that we are already seeing – making heatwaves, extreme rainfall, fire weather, and droughts more frequent and severe.'”

Posted August 9, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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