The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change met last Friday in Stockholm, Sweden to discuss the current state of global climate change. Presenting information from the UN’s assessment of climate science, the panel unanimously agreed, for the first time, on an upper limit for greenhouse gases (GHG), advocating for a specific emissions cap that the world must adhere to, before climactic changes become permanent.
The UN’s assessment affirmed the idea that our changing climate is caused by human activities, reinforcing the need for a global environmental policy. The panel noted that if nothing is done to reduce emissions, then we will exceed our emissions cap in just a few decades. Unfortunately, any recent action taken towards enacting a global environmental policy has been bogged down by political conflicts.
The report states, “Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes.”
The panel also supports a “carbon budget” for the world, or a limit on how much GHG — the main GHG is carbon dioxide — can be expelled into the atmosphere by industrial activities and deforestation. Scientists have found that if the planet’s temperature were to increase by more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, then we would begin to see the most detrimental effects of climate change; if we want to keep the planet’s temperature below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, then we cannot burn more than one trillion metric tons of carbon.
According to the UN’s report, more than a half-trillion tons of carbon have been burned since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and as energy consumption continues to increase, we will likely reach the trillionth ton around 2040. Over three trillion tons of carbon are still kept in the ground as fossil fuels.
Just this month, Obama passed an executive order, in conjunction with the EPA, which regulates the amount of carbon that US power companies can emit, making “carbon capture” technology a requirement. The panel recommended that the same technology should be done for other companies around the world, especially once we pass the trillion-ton mark.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meets every five to six years — the last time they met was in 2007. The 2013 report presents a 95-100 percent probability that climate change is human-caused; the 2007 report presented a 90-100 percent probability.
The new report accedes to the fact climate science is not a perfect science; we are still uncertain, for instance, of the progression of rising ocean levels, and of how much the planet will actually warm when a certain amount of emissions is released. The report also acknowledges the gradual decrease of warming that has happened over the last 15 years, reasoning that it is probably due to the natural variability of climate. Both are favorite points of climate doubters; and despite the climate doubters’ valid claims, the only way to lessen the effects of climate change is to place a global cap on emissions.
The societal risk and cost of inaction is unaffordable.
Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan
September 30, 2013
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