Smokestacks [CREDIT: Global Climate Budget 2018]
A new UN report on global climate change isn’t quite as dire as one it issued last October.
That special report on warming of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) showed that the effects of climate change could become catastrophic by 2040, at least 10 years earlier than scientists had predicted. Another report in December by private energy consulting group Wood Mackenzie showed that it’s already too late to counter the worst effects of climate change.
With those dire forecasts as a backdrop, the latest report aims to restore hope that with concerted effort people can make a difference.
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The report lays out a roadmap for how to address critical problems, including air and water pollution, land and biodiversity degradation, and even antibiotic resistance.
It notes that water quality is getting worse, and that plastics are now found throughout every depth in all seven of the world’s major oceans.
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It warns, however, that “Time is running out to prevent the irreversible and dangerous impacts of climate change.” In previous reports, UN climate scientists have identified 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit as the threshold at which global warming will endanger human and other life, as laid out in the Paris Climate Accord.
President Trump has set the U.S. on a path to withdraw from the accord in 2020, the earliest the accord will allow the country to withdraw.
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The latest report also warns of a “major species extinction event, compromising planetary integrity and Earth’s capacity to meet human needs” and notes that 29 percent of all land areas on the globe are already unsuitable for growing crops, and that deforestation is continuing. It notes progress, however, in the slowing rate of deforestation.
The report lays out plans to continue and expand such progress by involving community groups, scientists, academics, businesses, and authors to build the capacity to magnify change. It breaks down its findings into six major geographic areas, and notes that some regions will be especially hard-hit, including poorer regions of the world.
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In North America, the report notes significant progress in energy usage and air quality, but says that high drinking-water quality is backsliding, and concerns of drought are growing. It also says that loss of biodiversity is a significant risk.
It points to stable or declining greenhouse-gas emissions in Europe, but says that higher emissions in Eastern and Southern Europe are offsetting that progress. Air quality is the largest concern in Europe, and the report says that “The region’s resource footprint is unsustainable, owing to its overuse of natural resources and its trading patterns with other regions. Ecological, societal and economic resilience will be negatively affected in coming decades by global megatrends that are largely outside the region’s direct control and influence.”
The latest UN report seems to acknowledge that if people give up hope based on dire predictions and the huge scope of global warming, they’re unlikely to strive for progress. This report points to ways to inspire them.