Latest UN Report on Global Warming Carries "Life-or-Death Warning"
October 8, 2018 Associated Press & The New Arab & Agence France-Presse & Phil McKenna / Inside Climate News & Carolyn Gramling / Science News
In a 728-page report, the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change detailed how Earth's weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if the world's leaders could limit future human-caused planetary warming to just 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (a half degree Celsius) instead of the currently agreed-upon goal of 1.8 degrees F. A lead author of the report warned that the planet is now facing "a life-or-death situation without a doubt."
UN Report on Global Warming
Carries Life-or-Death Warning Associated Press & Voice of America
WASHINGTON (October 7, 2018) -- Preventing an extra single degree of heat could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for multitudes of people and ecosystems on this fast-warming planet, an international panel of scientists reported Sunday. But they provide little hope the world will rise to the challenge.
The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its gloomy report at a meeting in Incheon, South Korea.
In the 728-page document, the UN organization detailed how Earth's weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if the world's leaders could somehow limit future human-caused warming to just 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (a half degree Celsius) from now, instead of the globally agreed-upon goal of 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C). Among other things:
* Half as many people would suffer from lack of water.
* There would be fewer deaths and illnesses from heat, smog and infectious diseases.
* Seas would rise nearly 4 inches (0.1 meters) less.
* Half as many animals with back bones and plants would lose the majority of their habitats.
* There would be substantially fewer heat waves, downpours and droughts.
* The West Antarctic ice sheet might not kick into irreversible melting.
* And it just may be enough to save most of the world's coral reefs from dying.
"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 0.9 degrees from now means the world can keep "a semblance" of the ecosystems we have. Adding another 0.9 degrees on top of that -- the looser global goal -- essentially means a different and more challenging Earth for people and species, said another of the report's lead authors, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia.
But meeting the more ambitious goal of slightly less warming would require immediate, draconian cuts in emissions of heat-trapping gases and dramatic changes in the energy field. While the UN panel says technically that's possible, it saw little chance of the needed adjustments happening.
In 2010, international negotiators adopted a goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) since pre-industrial times. It's called the 2-degree goal. In 2015, when the nations of the world agreed to the historic Paris climate agreement, they set dual goals: 2 degrees C and a more demanding target of 1.5 degrees C from pre-industrial times. The 1.5 was at the urging of vulnerable countries that called 2 degrees a death sentence.
The world has already warmed 1 degree C since pre-industrial times, so the talk is really about the difference of another half-degree C or 0.9 degrees F from now.
"There is no definitive way to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 above pre-industrial levels," the UN-requested report said. More than 90 scientists wrote the report, which is based on more than 6,000 peer reviews.
"Global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate," the report states.
Deep in the report, scientists say less than 2 percent of 529 of their calculated possible future scenarios kept warming below the 1.5 goal without the temperature going above that and somehow coming back down in the future.
The pledges nations made in the Paris agreement in 2015 are "clearly insufficient to limit warming to 1.5 in any way," one of the study's lead authors, Joerj Roeglj of the Imperial College in London, said.
"I just don't see the possibility of doing the one and a half" and even 2 degrees looks unlikely, said Appalachian State University environmental scientist Gregg Marland, who isn't part of the UN panel but has tracked global emissions for decades for the US Energy Department. He likened the report to an academic exercise wondering what would happen if a frog had wings.
Yet report authors said they remain optimistic.
"We have a monumental task in front of us, but it is not impossible," Mahowald said Sunday. "This is our chance to decide what the world is going to look like. "
To limit warming to the lower temperature goal, the world needs "rapid and far-reaching" changes in energy systems, land use, city and industrial design, transportation and building use, the report said. Annual carbon dioxide pollution levels that are still rising now would have to drop by about half by 2030 and then be near zero by 2050.
Emissions of other greenhouse gases, such as methane, also will have to drop. Switching away rapidly from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas to do this could be three to four times more expensive than the less ambitious goal, but it would clean the air of other pollutants. And that would have the side benefit of avoiding more than 100 million premature deaths through this century, the report said.
"Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming" the report said, adding that the world's poor are more likely to get hit hardest.
Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said extreme weather, especially heat waves, will be deadlier if the lower goal is passed.
Meeting the tougher-to-reach goal "could result in around 420 million fewer people being frequently exposed to extreme heat waves, and about 65 million fewer people being exposed to exceptional heat waves," the report said. The deadly heat waves that hit India and Pakistan in 2015 will become practically yearly events if the world reaches the hotter of the two goals, the report said.
Coral and other ecosystems are also at risk. The report said warmer water coral reefs "will largely disappear." The outcome will determine whether "my grandchildren would get to see beautiful coral reefs," Princeton's Oppenheimer said.
(October 6, 2018) -- Oil giant Saudi Arabia backed down at the last minute Saturday from obstructing the adoption of a major report by the UN's climate science panel, sources told AFP.
With the threat removed, the meeting of the 195-nation panel in Incheon, South Korea -- deep into overtime -- swiftly approved the report on how to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), and what a 1.5C world might look like.
The Saudis had objected to the inclusion of a passage emphasising the need for sharp reductions in the use of fossil fuels -- Saudi Arabia's main export.
"Saudi Arabia withdrew its blockage of the passage when their objection was about to be formally recorded in a footnote," said a participant in the meeting.
"It was a game of chicken, and the Saudi's blinked first."
The 500-page report -- based on 6,000 peer reviewed studies -- under review at the meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a collaborative effort of the world's top climate scientists.
Under the IPCC's consensus rules, all countries must sign off on the language of a 20-page Summary for Policymakers, designed to provide leaders with objective, science-based information.
After six hours of fruitless negotiations Saturday morning, the chair of the IPPC meeting adjourned the plenary around midday, warning: "The report hangs in the balance." A break-out group -- or "huddle," in UN jargon -- made no progress in resolving the deadlock.
Finally, when the plenary resumed, the Saudis' withdrew their objection just before their demand was to be rejected and noted in the record.
"We expected tough negotiations on this landmark report and we are happy that governments have delivered a good reflection of the underlying science," said Stephen Cornelius, WWF's chief advisor on climate change and a former IPCC negotiator. "Current country pledges to cut emissions are insufficient to limit global warming to 1.5°C -- you can't negotiate with science."
At issue was a passage in the summary stating that voluntary national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, annexed to the 2015 Paris climate treaty, will fail to limit warming to 1.5C.
Current pledges would at best yield a 3C-world by century's end, far above the 2C cap mandated by the Paris Agreement.
These so-called "nationally determined contributions" run from 2020 to 2030 for most countries, including Saudi Arabia, and to 2025 for a few others.
The passage goes on to note that capping global warming under 1.5C "can only be achieved if global CO2 emissions start to decline well before 2030".
As a consequence, scientists and climate activists have called on countries to ratchet up their carbon-cutting pledges as soon as possible.
In the case of an impasse, the chairs of an IPCC meeting can override an objection from one or a few countries, recording it in a footnote.
"It's quite rare that a government will be willing to have their name on the bottom of the page with an asterisk," Jonathan Lynn, head of communications for the IPCC, said last week. "We do everything we can to avoid it."
Saudi Arabia has a long track record of raising questions and objections within UN climate forums.
During the week-long talks in Incheon, "the Saudis have been running interference across the board, on main and minor issues," a participant in the meeting said. Not Just CO2: These Climate Pollutants
Also Must Be Cut to Keep Global Warming to 1.5 Degrees A landmark report from the UN's
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
warns policymakers of the risks ahead
and the changes needed to stop global warming Phil McKenna / Inside Climate News
(October 7, 2018) -- Countries won't be able to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, considered by some scientists and policymakers to be the "safe" limit of climate change, without immediate and rapid reductions in a wide range of greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide, according to a new United Nations report.
The report, released Oct. 8 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sums up the research into how 1.5°C of warming will affect the world and how global warming can most effectively be stopped.
The planet has already warmed about 1°C since the start of the industrial era, and that's likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if emissions continue at their current rate, the IPCC says.
It describes how recent warming has been accompanied by a trend toward more intense and frequent climate, temperature and weather extremes, and how those risks will rise with the temperature.
The warming can be stopped, the IPCC writes in its summary for policymakers. Doing so will require countries to reduce global net emissions of carbon dioxide to zero by around 2050 and to also significantly reduce short-lived climate pollutants, including methane, black carbon and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.
That emphasis on reducing short-lived climate pollutants, which are many times more potent than CO2 but don't last as long in the atmosphere, is stronger than what has been written into past international agreements.
That's partly because, with the clock running out before the world busts through its carbon budget, curtailing short-lived pollutants can buy valuable time.
In analyzing the least disruptive pathways for keeping global warming under 1.5°C, the IPCC found that all involve deep reductions in both methane and black carbon emissions of at least 35 percent by 2050.
Where to Cut Short-Lived Climate Pollutants?
The report's summary for policymakers points to three industries in particular for reducing short-lived climate pollutants: energy, agriculture and waste.
"One of the lowest-hanging fruits by far would be reducing methane from oil and gas operations," said Tiy Chung, a spokesman for the Climate & Clean Air Coalition, an advocacy group focused on reducing short-lived climate pollutant emissions. "The process to finding and fixing those leaks is relatively easy, and then the saved gas helps pay for that work."
A study earlier this year in the journal Science estimated that in the US, methane equivalent to 2.3 percent of all the natural gas produced in the nation leaks into the atmosphere during the production, processing and transportation of oil and gas every year. The Obama administration set rules aimed at reducing these emissions, but the Trump administration has been rolling back the regulations.
Agriculture is another leading source of methane, particularly from livestock and their manure and from rice fields. Landfills, like oil and gas fields, contribute methane as organic material decomposes.
Groups that are encouraging reducing short-lived climate pollutants emphasize that doing so reduces health hazards at the same time. For example, black carbon, also known as soot, can damage the lungs and cause heart problems, particularly for people who live or work around sources of it, such as diesel engines or wood- or coal-burning cook stoves.
"If you reduce things like black carbon emissions from the tailpipes of vehicles, for example, you are providing these important air quality improvement benefits which is going to help local populations as well," said Katherine Ross, an associate with the World Resources Institute's Climate Program.
The damage from short-lived climate pollutants is already showing up in the Arctic, where the new IPCC report says temperatures have warmed two to three times more than the global average and where warming can trigger feedback loops, including thawing permafrost that releases even more methane into the atmosphere.
Capturing a Missed Opportunity
The recognition of the need to reduce emissions of methane and other short-lived climate pollutants addresses what some advocates for action on climate change see as a key shortcoming of initial pledges made under the Paris Agreement.
Of the 195 nations that signed the Paris Agreement, eight included specific targets and policies for reducing short-lived climate pollutants in their national commitments, though many others describe measures targeting sources of methane, black carbon or HFCs.
"There was this real missed opportunity," Ross said. "There was this general lack of detail and specificity with regard to how countries planned to take action to reduce these highly potent pollutants."
To limit warming to 1.5°C, countries will have to act quickly.
"It's really hard to get to 1.5 under any conceivable set of policies," Drew Shindell, a professor of climate science at Duke University and a coordinating lead author on the IPCC report said. "So, you really need to do pretty much everything you can think of, which means SLCPs (short-lived climate pollutants) are a key part."
AllatRa TV English (July 24, 2018)
NOTE: This Russian video provides an effective global survey of climate change and rising temperatures. However, the report concludes with the bizarre statement that climate change is not antropogenic but is "inevitable" and the only way to deal with the existential threat is by "relying on feelings of unity."
Limiting Global Warming to 1.5 Degrees
Versus 2 Has Big Benefits, the IPCC Says Scientists hope a new climate report will
jump-start policy decisions to reduce emissions Carolyn Gramling / Science News
(October 7, 2018) -- Half a degree can make a world of difference.
If Earth warms by just 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial times by 2100, rather than 2 degrees, we would see fewer life-threatening heat, drought and precipitation extremes, less sea level rise and fewer species lost.
Those findings are detailed in a report, a summary of which was released October 8, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, following its weeklong meeting in Incheon, South Korea. "This will be one of the most important meetings in the IPCC's history," Hoesung Lee, a climate economist at Korea University in South Korea and current IPCC chair, said in his opening address October 1.
To compile the report, the scientists sifted through more than 6,000 papers probing the impact of a global temperature hike of 1.5 degrees, sometimes working through the night, says Natalie Mahowald, a climate scientist at Cornell University and one of the report's coauthors. But the long hours were worth it: The report's message is compelling and urgent, she says. "Such a small change in temperature will have big impacts on people."
Three years ago, in 2015, 195 nations signed onto the Paris agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to limit global warming to "well below" 2 degrees by 2100 (SN: 1/9/16, p. 6). Getting all the delegates on the same 2-degree-warming page was a hard-won victory.
But many scientists have warned that the 2-degree target isn't stringent enough to prevent major environmental changes affecting everything from sea level rise to water scarcity to habitat loss. During the Paris talks, more than 100 nations -- including many of those most vulnerable to climate change, such as the island nation of the Maldives and drought-stricken Angola -- called for a lower warming target of 1.5 degrees.
At the time, Lee noted in his Oct. 1 address, scientists knew relatively little about how to compare the risks of a 1.5-degree-warmer world with a 2-degree-warmer world. So, as part of the decision to adopt the Paris agreement, the nations invited the IPCC to prepare a report assessing those impacts.
As it turns out, the differences are stark between the two warming targets, as outlined in the new report, titled "Global Warming of 1.5° C." In addition to fewer heat, rain and drought extremes, the impact on future sea levels would be significant.
A half a degree less warming means about 0.1 meters less sea level rise on average by the next century. As a result, at least 10 million fewer people would be exposed to such risks as flooding, infrastructure damage and saltwater intrusion into freshwater resources, the report found.
Somewhere between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees, the planet's great ice sheets may become increasingly unstable, further increasing the potential for sea level rise. And, in the 1.5-degree warming scenario, the Arctic Ocean is projected to be ice-free during the summer only once per century. That would happen once a decade under the 2-degree scenario.
As for the planet's other denizens, a lower temperature increase would mean less risk of habitat loss for many insect, plant and animal species compared with a full 2 degrees of warming, the report notes (SN: 6/9/18, p. 6). And other climate-related risks to these species, including forest fires and the spread of invasive species, would be less under that lower warming threshold.
Much of the data analyzed in the report has been published in scientific journals over the last two years, and wasn't available when the Paris agreement was signed. The London-based website Carbon Brief published an interactive infographic on October 4 that summarizes the results of 70 such 1.5-degree studies that show the impacts of warming targets on everything from future sea level rise to heatwaves to hurricanes.
Despite building a case for a lower temperature target, the trick will be how to get there. In 2017, the Paris accords faced a major setback when President Donald Trump announced that the United States, a major contributor to the greenhouse gases that drive warming, would pull out of the agreement. Achieving an even more stringent target seems particularly daunting.
The IPCC report examines various possible paths that scientists have examined to limit the environmental impacts of warming. Among the variables considered in these paths are when emissions are projected to reach net zero, when the amount of carbon released to the atmosphere is balanced by the amount that is being removed. Another variable is how many more emissions will be allowable in the meantime -- a concept known as the carbon budget.
But almost all of the projected pathways to 1.5 degrees have one thing in common, says Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist with Carbon Brief: They overshoot that temperature threshold somewhere around 2050. "They all exceed it -- and then back down," he says.
To overshoot the mark by only a small amount, or not at all, requires reducing emissions by about 45 percent relative to 2010 levels by the year 2030, and reaching zero around 2050, the IPCC report notes. In comparison, to get to "below 2 degrees Celsius," emissions must decline by about 20 percent by the year 2030 and reach zero by about 2075.
Barring such early, deep cuts, it will take "negative emissions" to bring the temperatures back down after overshooting the mark mid-century. Negative emissions are, essentially, a hoped-for reduction in emissions due to future technologies that will be able to remove enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reverse the greenhouse effect.
Those technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, are not yet commercially viable. And reversing the effects of the greenhouse warming is not so straightforward: "By and large, it's generally true that there's a linear relationship between warming and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as long as both are increasing," Hausfather says. "But once you start sucking carbon out of the atmosphere, that linear relationship breaks. You need more negative emissions to reduce temperatures than positive emissions to increase them."
It's uncertain how -- or if -- policy makers will be able to use the findings to reshape the climate accords. During the 2015 Paris talks, a proposed 1.5-degree target was met with strong resistance from nations that would need to be on board, particularly China.
And President Trump's administration gave a hint of its reaction when, in July, it released an environmental impact statement on the White House's plan to freeze federal fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks built after 2020.
With current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures are currently on track to rise by 4 degrees compared to preindustrial times by 2100 -- and freezing the standards will further increase those emissions, the report acknowledged. But the study recommended the freeze anyway, stating that moving away from fossil fuels to make deep cuts in carbon emissions would require innovations that are "not currently technologically feasible or economically feasible."
The challenges may seem insurmountable. But this special report -- and the two years of intense research that led up to it -- has also forced scientists to reassess some assumptions about what's possible, says Kaisa Kosonen, a Helsinki-based climate policy adviser at Greenpeace International who traveled to South Korea for the meeting.
Including certain factors, such as better energy efficiency in the future, can lead to "results you didn't know even existed," she says. "I've been inspired by how much optimism there still is among scientists."
Indeed, one of the key messages from the report is that holding warming to 1.5 degrees "is not impossible," Mahowald says. "But it will require really ambitious efforts, and the sooner the better. We have to start cutting emissions now. We have to be very ambitious on sustainable energy and sustainable agriculture," she says.
And, she notes, achieving the goal will require people to undergo behavioral changes as well, from energy conservation to changes in diet.
But people would also face huge adjustments in a world that's 2 degrees warmer, or even higher, Mahowald warns. So despite the challenges, "it still might be easier to reach 1.5 than to adapt to those higher temperatures."
Scientists create a mineral in the lab that captures carbon dioxide. Science News. Vol. 194, September 15, 2018, p. 9.
Keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees C helps most species hold their ground. Science News. Vol. 193, June 9, 2018, p. 6.
Globetrotting tourists are leaving a giant carbon footprint on the Earth. Science News. Vol. 193, June 9, 2018, p. 5.
Cargo ships must cut their emissions in half by 2050. Science News Online, April 13, 2018.
US will withdraw from climate pact, Trump announces. Science News Online, June 1, 2017.
195 nations approve historic climate accord. Science News. Vol. 189, January 9, 2016, p. 6.
Artificial fixes for climate change nixed – for now. Science News. Vol. 187, March 7, 2015, p. 14.
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