The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just released an alarming new report that shows unchecked greenhouse gas emissions are leading to inevitable and irreversible climate change. The report warns that higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are likely to intensify unless greenhouse gases are brought under control. And furthermore, the report warns that the world is nearing the temperature at which the loss of the vast Greenland ice sheet is inevitable.
Despite increased awareness about the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, the world hasn’t been able to effectively reduce them – and in fact they are getting worse! From 1970 to 2000, global emissions of greenhouse gases grew at 1.3 percent a year. But from 2000 to 2010, that rate jumped to 2.2 percent a year, and the pace seems to be accelerating. A major part of the jump was caused by industrialization in China, which now accounts for half the world’s coal use. Those emissions are being incurred in large part to produce goods for consumption in the West.
Emissions are now falling in nearly all Western countries because of an increased focus on efficiency and the spread of cleaner energy sources. But the declines are not yet sufficient to offset rising emissions in developing countries, where governments are focused on pulling their populations out of poverty.
The draft report found that it was still technically possible to limit global warming to an internationally agreed upper bound of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the preindustrial level. But continued political delays for another decade or two will make that unachievable without severe economic disruption.
The report is not final and could change substantially before release. It is being written to summarize and restate a string of earlier reports about climate change released over the past year, and it will be unveiled in early November in Copenhagen.
(c) Bruce Behnke 2014
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