It has been a big year for climate change. From the 2014 UN Climate Summit in New York City to troubling reports on mass extinction and defunation, the pending future of our planet is now a reoccurring topic in today’s current events. This week climate change made headlines once again with the release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 5th Assessment Report (AR5). The 116-page document synthesizes three IPCC reports and is a stern warning against maintaining the status quo in resource consumption. Population Education has summarized 6 key take-aways from this influential IPCC report:
1. The IPCC report is intended to inform future policy decisions
The United Nations is in the midst of a series of climate talks with the aim of adopting a new post-Kyoto regime with more aggressive and legally binding measures to curb anthropogenic climate change. AR5 will serve as a roadmap for future policy decisions made at the 20th and 21st UN Climate Conferences in Lima and Paris. The UN hopes to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a more aggressive treaty at the 2015 Paris conference.
2. Climate change is unequivocal and largely driven by humans through economic and population growth
Our climate is warming – the atmosphere and oceans have warmed and snow and sea ice have declined. Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, states that climate change is no longer a distant threat, it is happening now. AR5 cites continued economic and population growth as the most important drivers behind increased CO2 emissions. Human-produced greenhouse gas emissions have increased since pre-industrial times and are now higher than ever. Industrial fossil fuel combustion and processes represent roughly 78% of total greenhouse gas emissions from 1970-2010, and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have reached unprecedented levels within an 800,000 year time frame. Burning of fossil fuels and changing land use patterns are severely altering the state of our environment, bringing us to point three.
3. Warming trends are irreversible and if left unchecked, will cause severe, evasive and permanent impacts for people and ecosystems
Current climate models predict warming beyond the year 2100. This warming will negatively impact biomes, soil carbon levels, ice sheets, ocean temperatures, and sea levels. Additionally, climate change stands to severely alter the quality and quantity of hydrological systems dependent on seasonal melting of snow and ice, impacting species biodiversity and food security. The IPCC also predicts an increase in extreme weather events such as warming, regional drought, increased precipitation, flooding, and occasional cold weather events. In order to prevent catastrophic consequences, the IPCC recommends making a substantial shift to renewable resources by the year 2050 and a fossil fuel phase out by 2100.
4. The developing world will bear much of the climate change burden
Populations in the developing world will be severely disadvantaged by climate change. Climactic shifts stand to undermine food security. A changing climate and growing population pose large risks for marine systems, fisheries, and production of major crops (wheat, rice, and maize). In these tropical and temperate regions, species will not be able to adapt at a pace fast enough to keep up with rapidly shifting climatic regions. We may also expect reduced levels of renewable surface water, which will intensify competition for clean freshwater. Finally, climate change may exacerbate health problems that already exist and rising sea levels stand to create more political volatility and violent conflict as communities are forced to relocate.
5. To slow climate change, immediate action is necessary from all parties
The IPCC warns that effective action cannot be achieved if countries continue to advance their own interests independently. The effects of climate change are global and thus must be addressed by the entire global community on multiple scales (international, regional, national, and sub-national). Countries, private entities, and individuals must make a strong commitment to fight climate change on a number for fronts. There is no one solution to curtail climate change. Policy must change at every level – from regulatory institutions and governance, to innovation and investment in environmentally sound infrastructure, to adoption of sustainable lifestyle choices. While most policy decisions must occur at the national level, their effects can be enhanced by coordination and cooperation on the international scale through treaty ratification and adherence of international commitments.
6.The future of our planet depends on the choices and commitments we make today
Pachauri believes that policymakers have the power to steer us away from worst case scenarios. He states that they should, “avoid being overcome by the seeming hopelessness of addressing climate change.” While the task is formidable, solutions are available and we must commit to making decisions informed by science. The IPCC reports that mitigation efforts are not without trade-offs, however, the risks associated with taking action are not as severe as those associated with inaction. Pachauri and the IPCC have set the stage for what, hopefully, represents a new paradigm of collaboration and decision making. It is up to the global community (nations, industries, and individuals) to seriously commit to more aggressive behavioral changes, the future of our planet depends on it.
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