An international panel of climate scientists’ reports Sunday that 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.
The scientists however provided little hope that the world will rise to the challenge.
The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its gloomy report at a meeting in Incheon, South Korea, copied to the Ghana News Agency.
In the 728-page document, the U.N. organisation 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, it said half as many people would suffer from lack of water, seas would rise nearly four inches (0.1 meters) less, and half as many animals with back bones and plants would lose the majority of their habitats.
Dr Natalie Mahowald, Cornell University Climate Scientist and lead author of the report said, “For some people this is a life-or-death situation without a doubt.”
“We have a monumental task in front of us, but it is not impossible,” Dr Mahowald said, adding, “This is our chance to decide what the world is going to look like.”
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 co-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 U.N. 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 U.N.-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.
Yet report authors said they remain optimistic.
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 were 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 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.
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.
Coral and other ecosystems are also at risk. The report said warmer water coral reefs “will largely disappear.”
For scientists there is a bit of “wishful thinking” that the report will spur governments and people to act quickly and strongly, one of the panel’s leaders, German biologist Hans-Otto Portner said.
“If action is not taken it will take the planet into an unprecedented climate future.”
Responding to the report, Mr. Apollos Nwafor, Pan Africa Director of Oxfam International said: “Climate change has set our planet on fire, millions are already feeling the impacts, and the IPCC just showed that things can get much worse.
“Settling for two degrees would be a death sentence for people in many parts of Africa. The faster governments embrace the renewable energy revolution and move to protect communities at risk, the more lives and livelihoods that will be spared.
“A hotter Africa is a hungrier Africa. Today at only 1.1 degrees of warming globally, crops and livestock across the region are being hit and hunger is rising, with poor small scale women farmers, living in rural areas suffering the most. It only gets worse from here.
In sub-Saharan Africa 1.5 degrees warming by the 2030s could lead to about 40 percent of present maize cropping areas being no longer suitable for current cultivars, and significant negative impacts on sorghum suitability are projected. Under warming of less than 2 degrees by the 2050s, total crop production could be reduced by 10 percent
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