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Climate Scientists: Humans Have Only 12 Years to Limit Devastating Climate Changes

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2018

In a 700-page report detailing the latest research on climate change, a UN panel of scientists strongly warns that unless we make “massive and unprecedented changes to global energy infrastructure to limit global warming to moderate levels” to limit the world’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, there will be widespread coastal flooding, food shortages, wildfires, and other issues related to climate change. If you are 60 or under, these changes will occur in your lifetime. From the NY Times:

A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

The report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.

The report “is quite a shock, and quite concerning,” said Bill Hare, an author of previous I.P.C.C. reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics, a nonprofit organization. “We were not aware of this just a few years ago.” The report was the first to be commissioned by world leaders under the Paris agreement, the 2015 pact by nations to fight global warming.

And from the Washington Post:

The transformation described in the document is breathtaking, and the speed of change required raises inevitable questions about its feasibility.

Most strikingly, the document says the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, which amount to more than 40 billion tons per year, would have to be on an extremely steep downward path by 2030 to either hold the world entirely below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or allow only a brief “overshoot” in temperatures. As of 2018, emissions appeared to be still rising, not yet showing the clear peak that would need to occur before any decline.

Overall reductions in emissions in the next decade would probably need to be more than 1 billion tons per year, larger than the current emissions of all but a few of the very largest emitting countries. By 2050, the report calls for a total or near-total phaseout of the burning of coal.

If you’d like to dive into the report itself, two good places to start are the headline statements and the summary for policymakers.