UN scientific report sounds deafening climate alarm

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Nearly 200 countries are kicking off a virtual meeting on Monday to finalize what promises to be a heartbreaking scientific overview of accelerating climate impacts that will highlight the urgent need to cut emissions – and prepare for the challenges ahead.

The world is already feeling the effects of global warming, caused in large part by the burning of fossil fuels, with the past year having seen a cascade of deadly floods, heat waves and wildfires across four continents.

The next update from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to detail what the best available science tells us about the impacts of climate change – past, present and future.

During a two-week meeting, diplomats and scientists will examine, line by line, a very important summary for policymakers, summarizing an underlying report of several thousand pages.

An early draft of the IPCC review seen by AFP in 2021 clearly shows how devastating climate impacts are a reality here and now.

In some cases, that means adapting to intolerably hot days, flash floods and storm surges has become a matter of life and death.

“Even if we find solutions to reduce carbon emissions, we will still need solutions to help us adapt,” said Alexandre Magnan, researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations in Paris and co- author of the report, without comment. on the findings of the report.

Species extinction, ecosystem collapse, crippling health effects from disease and heat, water shortages – all of these will accelerate in the decades to come, even as the carbon emissions that drive global warming are reduced, according to the report.

“It’s a real moment of judgment,” said Rachel Cleetus, director of climate and energy policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“These are not just scientific projections about the future,” she said. “These are extreme events and slow-onset disasters that people are experiencing right now.”

Plan ahead

The report comes three months after pledges made at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow to halt deforestation, cut methane emissions, phase out coal power and increase financial aid to developing countries .

The IPCC assessments are divided into three sections, each with its own volunteer “working group” made up of hundreds of scientists.

In August 2021, the first physical science installment revealed that global warming is virtually certain to pass 1.5 degrees Celsius, likely within a decade.

This is the warming limit envisaged in the Paris Agreement, beyond which the impacts become more severe.

This second Impacts and Adaptation Report, to be released after the two-week meeting, is expected to highlight that vulnerability to extreme weather events – even when worsened by global warming – can be reduced through better planning. .

That’s not just true in the developing world, noted Imperial College professor Friederike Otto, pointing to massive flooding in Germany last year that killed dozens and caused billions in damage.

“Even without global warming, there would have been a huge rainfall event in a densely populated geography where rivers overflow very easily,” said Otto, a pioneer in the science of quantifying how much climate change makes more likely or intense extreme weather events. .

hard choices

The latest report will also likely focus on how climate change is widening already gaping gaps in inequality, both between regions and within nations.

This means that the people least responsible for climate change are those who suffer the most from its impacts.

Not only is this unfair, experts and advocates say, but it is an obstacle to solving the problem.

“I don’t think there are any pathways to sustainable development that don’t substantially address issues of equity,” said Clark University professor Edward Clark, lead author of one of the chapters in the report.

The Earth’s surface has warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius since the 19th century.

The 2015 Paris Agreement calls for capping global warming at “well below” 2 degrees, and ideally at the more ambitious limit of 1.5 degrees.

This report is sure to reinforce that objective.

“There are limits – for ecosystems and human systems – to adaptation,” Cleetus said. “We cannot adapt to runaway climate change.”

Indeed, the report will likely focus more than ever on dangerous “tipping points,” invisible temperature tripwires in the climate system for irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes.

Some of them, like melting permafrost harboring twice as much carbon as in the atmosphere, could on their own be fueling global warming.

At the same time, scientists are only just beginning to get a handle on so-called cascading and compound impacts – how the melting of the Greenland ice cap, for example, affects ocean currents around the world.

“There’s a finite set of choices we can make that would move us productively into the future,” Carr said. “Every day we wait and delay, some of those choices get harder or disappear.”

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