Time Is Running Out To Control Climate Change, U.N. Report Says

The Great Barrier Reef off the northeastern coast of Australia in December 2017

The Great Barrier Reef off the northeastern coast of Australia in December 2017. AAP

Countries have to make unprecedented transitions in all sectors to avoid devastating consequences of climate change and keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century, says a report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an worldwide body set up in 1988.

The day after an worldwide panel of scientists issued a stark warning about the short window in which world leaders can act to avoid catastrophic climate change, the president of the United States didn't comment on whether the USA accepts or will act on the findings.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report called for achieving "net zero emissions" by 2050 in order to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It would cut in half the number of animals and plants that would lose habitats with the attendant risk of extinction. Coral reefs would have a chance to survive.

"For some people this is a life-or-death situation without a doubt", said Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald, a lead author on the report.

Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III Jim Skea said.

Junaid Ahmad, Country Director, the World Bank, said the world is relying on India more than before to address the challenges of climate change.

And, of course, Trump has been trying to slash carbon regulations instead of strengthening them. While the United Nations panel says technically that's possible, it saw little chance of the needed adjustments happening.

Areas like sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean would still suffer from droughts, but farms would be able to grow more food than they could with 2 degrees of warming. If the United States followed the report's 45% goal, it would have 12 years to decrease annual emissions by more than 2.5 billion metric tons.

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The IPCC study, which took almost three years to complete and involved 91 authors from 40 countries, is the first to look in detail at the 1.5 deg C limit, which is one of the goals in the 2015 UN Paris Climate Agreement. A 500-page impact statement drawn up over the summer by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration assumed that the planet would warm a calamitous seven degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

"Although the report might appear miserable at first glance, it actually shows the pathways to limit warming to 1.5 degrees and how it is achievable".

Experts say if we hit that threshold we could see devastating impacts including rising sea levels, unprecedented flooding and extreme droughts.

Former George Tech atmospheric-sciences professor Judith A. Curry described the report's conclusions as the "same old, same old", based on questionable climate models and not "new science or better ways of assessing uncertainty".

The IPCC report said at the current rate of warming, the world's temperatures would likely reach 1.5C between 2030 and 2052 after an increase of 1C above pre-industrial levels since the mid-1800s.

If warming is limited to 1.5 degrees, the effects of climate change will be serious but manageable. "Over 187 cities globally participate in that symbolic gesture of switching off your lights for that one hour, to say I really care about this and I want to be part of the solution", Ms Richter said. He likened the report to an academic exercise wondering what would happen if a frog had wings.

"While the pace of change that would be required to limit warming to [2.7º F] can be found in the past, there is no historical precedent for the scale of the necessary transitions, in particular in a socially and economically sustainable way", the report stated.

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