Report: We Have 12 Years to Avoid the Worst of Climate Change

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To avoid global environmental catastrophe due to climate change, humans will have to fundamentally transform the way we live on planet Earth.

Earlier this week the Nobel Peace Prize-winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report on global climate change, a publication summarized poignantly by the Washington Post headline: “Climate scientists are struggling to find the right words for very bad news.”

Compiled by 91 scientists and reviewers from 50 countries, the report provides an update to the deadline humanity must meet so as to avoid average global temperatures exceeding 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels.

The report estimates that within about twelve years we must undertake “rapid and far-reaching” transformations to the way we live on Earth.

If we allow global average temperatures to exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels we reach a point when damage from climate change impacts will become more severe and potentially irreversible.

According to Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I, “We are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes.”

Keeping average warming below 1.5°C  would provide substantially improved opportunities for mitigating the worst of these negative impacts.

For example, by 2100 global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. And, with 1.5°C  warming we would only lose 70-90% of coral reefs instead of the more than 99% expected loss associated with 2°C of average warming.

“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

The report does offer solutions, including “shifting to low- or zero-emission power generation, such as renewables; changing food systems, such as diet changes away from land-intensive animal products; electrifying transport and developing ‘green infrastructure’, such as building green roofs, or improving energy efficiency by smart urban planning, which will change the layout of many cities.”

Luckily, many of these transformations are already happening. “But they would need to accelerate,” says Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of Working Group I.

Independent science-based organization Climate Action Tracker keeps tabs on which nations are behind, meeting or exceeding the recommendations set forth by the Paris Agreement of 2015.  

Seven countries are leading the way with formal efforts to limit global warming below 1.5°C or 2°C. Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, India and the Philippines are on track to remain within 2°C average warming. Morocco and The Gambia are leading the world in their efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.

While climate change impacts will disproportionately impact people depending on where they live and their access to resources, citizens in developed nations such as the United States can start by taking the path of least resistance: replace animal-products in our diets with plant-based alternatives and vote for policies that support improved access to plant based foods.

A recent report published in Nature suggests cutting global meat consumption by 90% so that we can realistically meet our emissions reduction targets.

 

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