Archive | November, 2014

No Tricks, No Treats: Just A Very Frightening Climate Forecast

While Americans were enjoying their Halloween festivities, scaring each other with imaginary ghosts and zombies, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was quietly reaching consensus on a much more terrifying—and very real—conclusion:

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.”

This is the message of the Panel’s Synthesis Report, which gathers and summarizes the information gathered over the past year on the science of climate change, the potential impacts and how to adapt to them, and options for reducing the magnitude of the change through greenhouse gas reductions. The synthesis released over the weekend, available in a 40-page, non-technical Summary for Policymakers and a more detailed, 100-page version, is the distillation of an effort that left no stone unturned in the world of climate science: 830 scientists from over 80 drew on the work of over 1,000 contributing authors and over 2,000 expert reviewers. The full suite of reports totaled nearly drew on over 30,000 scientific papers and weighed in at nearly 5,000 pages. What’s more, every line of the new report was agreed to by all of the Panel’s member nations – a list of 195 countries, including many that are heavily reliant on fossil fuels, like the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Australia.

What does all this boil down to? A stark series of statements that don’t leave a lot to uncertainty:

1) Climate change is here.

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.” {Finding 1.1}


2) It is caused by our greenhouse gas emissions.

“Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. “{Findings 1.2, 1.3.1}


3) It is already affecting us.

“In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. Impacts are due to observed climate change, irrespective of its cause, indicating the sensitivity of natural and human systems to changing climate.” {Finding 1.3.2}

 4) We can still limit it. . .

“There are multiple mitigation pathways that are likely to limit warming to below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels.” {Finding 3.4}

5) . . .but we may be in big trouble if we don’t.

Remember the line above about “severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts”? Here are a few that the report points out: climate changes are likely to “undermine food security,” “lead to increases in ill-health,” “increase risks of violent conflicts,” and even “slow down economic growth.” {Section 2.3}

Maybe that last bit will finally get the attention of the world’s policy makers.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.