Major UN report says climate change is worse than first thought

Protest An activist is arrested at the German Embassy in London yesterday in a protest against coal

Protest An activist is arrested at the German Embassy in London yesterday in a protest against coal

"Climate activists have been calling for decades for leaders to show responsibility and take urgent action, but we have barely scratched the surface of what needs to be done".

Two decades. That's all the time world leaders have to reverse emissions of greenhouse gases to avoid inundating coastal cities, killing off coral reefs and their attendant marine wildlife, and potential food shortages, according to a new United Nations report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"By 2100, global mean sea level rise will be around 10cm lower for warming of 1.5 degrees compared with 2C".

"The next few years are probably the most important in our history", said Debra Roberts, an IPCC co-chair. The general message is that the ecological and social impacts of 1.5℃ are significantly more manageable than 2℃ - half a degree of warming is a big deal.

Soot, or black carbon, is another byproduct of burning fossil fuels, and its effects can clearly be seen at the poles, particularly the Arctic.

Between 10 and 30 per cent of coral reef could be saved from obliteration, according to the IPCC report.

"All options need to be exercised in order to achieve 1.5C", said Prof Jim Skea, an IPCC co-chair.

While the global average temperature is now at about 1 degree, some parts of the world are already experiencing 1.5 degree global warming.

- And it just may be enough to save most of the world's coral reefs from dying. But at 2 degrees, that number jumps to more than 99 percent. "As with present-day impacts of climate change, the impacts associated with crossing such thresholds in the future will impact poor and vulnerable communities first and worst". It's called the 2-degree goal.

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Perhaps shockingly, the panel noted that at the current warming rates, Earth's atmosphere will in less than one hundred years be 3 degrees Celsius warmer than it was before the start of the Industrial revolution, which is twice what the Paris Agreement stipulated in one of its scenarios.

Meeting the 1.5C limit would demand "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented change in all aspects of society", the panel said. "If we changed to fulfil health recommendations, we'd all live longer and bounce around much more and have nicer lives and we'd also reduce greenhouse gas emissions".

At the same time, the world must all but completely phase out coal, while boosting renewable energy by almost 50 percent. "However, time is running out, so we must capitalize and build on the solutions available today".

The report says the world will need an annual average investment of 2.4 trillion dollars between 2016 and 2035 (which is 2.5% of present world GDP) in energy system alone to limit the global warming to 1.5 degree celsius.

Greenpeace's Kaisa Kosonen summed up why the report matters: "Scientists might want to write in capital letters, "ACT NOW IDIOTS", but they need to say that with facts and numbers".

Given humanity's track record, this dramatic and unprecedented action seems unlikely.

An author of the recent report, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says the U.S. red-flagged several findings of the scientific summary for policymakers, but finally all nations endorsed it. Though the United States, which moved to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, too accepted the report, it has not endorsed it.

The consequences of a 1.5°C rise include extreme temperatures in many regions across the world, increases in frequency, intensity and/or amount of heavy precipitation, and an increase in intensity or frequency of droughts in some regions. At that point, the authors warn that our only chance will be some sort of carbon removal technology, which has not been proven to work on the necessary scale and will not be able to save ecosystems already lost.

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