Several newspapers published summaries of leaked copies of the latest draft report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Tuesday. The news ain't good. But it's not new. Greenhouse gas emissions, the report says, are probably "unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years." That was hundreds of thousands of years before modern humans emerged.
In the three decades from 1970 to 2000, the report stated, global emissions of greenhouse gases grew at 1.3 percent annually. But from 2000 to 2010, emissions expanded to 2.2 percent a year.
The report is a 127-page "synthesis" of three highly detailed analyses making up the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report released over the past year. It's meant to highlight the panel's latest findings in a more easily understood summary. What's different is the language. That's being described as blunt and stark. And it includes words like "irreversible":
“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen. [...]
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.”
Of course, the authors were cautious not to say "we're f#%@&cked" unless the deniers and delayers and fossil fuel fools are shoved out of the way. More's the pity. When you have a five-alarm fire underway, it's not alarmism to say so. Still, the report uses the word “risk” more than 350 times and “irreversible” 48 times.
Included in the report is a by-now familiar litany of expected impacts, many of which are already happening. Among them: rising sea levels from melting polar icecaps, Greenland and glaciers; ever more acidic oceans that make life difficult for many marine species; torrential rains; floods; droughts; heat waves; crop failures; extinctions; and violent conflict. The report also stated that global warming would “slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing poverty traps and create new ones, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.”
Below the orange feedback loop is more analysis.
The final synthesis to be published Nov. 2 could turn out significantly different than the draft report after governments and scientists complete a line-by-line review in an October conference in Copenhagen. Translation: It likely will be watered down. That's easy to do because scientists couch their analyses of climate change as a range of possibilities, not hard-and-fast predictions.
That fact has allowed deniers and delayers to challenge the overall findings of climate scientists by spouting nonsense that is persuasive to scientifically illiterate people as well as lawmakers and others with interests in blocking aggressive climate policies. One thing clear in the 24 years since the first assessment was published, even pessimistic predictions have proved to understate the impacts of climate change, which are occurring much sooner than expected.
An earlier version of the synthesis report, obtained by Reuters in early August, concluded that keeping warming below a rise of 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) as compared with temperatures from 1986 to 2005 could not be done without cutting global greenhouse gas emissions 40 to 70 percent by 2050. Without strong action now, it said, by the end of the century, temperatures could be 6.7° F (3.7° C) warmer. This would be catastrophic, although that draft of the report did not use that word.
Justin Gillis at the New York Times reports:
The report found that companies and governments had identified reserves of these fuels at least four times larger than could safely be burned if global warming is to be kept to a tolerable level.
It cited rising political efforts around the world on climate change, including efforts to limit emissions as well as to adapt to changes that have become inevitable. But the report found that these efforts were being overwhelmed by construction of facilities like new coal-burning power plants that will lock in high emissions for decades.
The new report found that it was still technically possible to limit global warming to an internationally agreed upper bound of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the preindustrial level. But continued political delays for another decade or two will make that unachievable without severe economic disruption, the report said.
Late next month world leaders will meet in New York to prepare for an international pact on curtailing emissions. But many critics fear the summit will be brimful of lame speeches followed by more inaction, just as in the past.
Amid the gloom, there are a few glimmers of hope in the draft report. To some extent, local and regional efforts are stepping in where nations refuse to tread. California, New York, Massachusetts and a few other states have taken action directed at reducing emissions. And President Obama, using authority confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court seven years ago, is pushing to curb emissions from electricity-generating power plants under the Clean Air Act.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that the Obama administration is working to cut worldwide emissions with a voluntary agreement that doesn't require a two-thirds treaty ratification vote of Senate, where such passage is currently impossible. That brought on lots of Republican muttering. But in late morning, Timothy Cama at The Hill reported that State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “it is entirely premature to say whether [an agreement] will or won’t require Senate approval.”
“Our goal is to negotiate a successful and effective global climate agreement that can help address this pressing challenge,” Psaki said in a statement. “Anything that is eventually negotiated and that should go to the Senate will go to the Senate.”
Alex Morales at Bloomberg reports
The report also shows the scale of the challenge in limiting global warming. To stand a two-thirds chance of meeting the temperature goal, cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide since 1870 must be limited to about 2,900 gigatons, according to the study. Two thirds of that carbon already has been released into the atmosphere, they said.
Delaying action will only increase the risks and costs, it said. Putting off work on the issue until 2030 may raise costs by 44 percent through 2050, it said.
Ruling out certain technological solutions would also raise the costs of fighting climate change, according to the paper. Without equipment to capture emissions from factories and power plants and store them underground, known as carbon capture and storage, the cost of the most stringent CO2 reductions could more than double, according to the paper. Eliminating nuclear power would raise costs by 7 percent and limiting wind and solar farms would do so by 6 percent.
Two days before the Sept. 23 climate summit gets underway, organizers of the People's Climate March hope to bring hundreds of thousands of people into the streets of New York City to spur global warming action from world leaders.