A new UN report says the world may be just 12 years away from triggering the severe and irreversible effects of climate change.
UNITED NATIONS — A new U.N. climate report confirms scientists’ worst fears: The world may be just 12 years away from triggering severe and irreversible effects of global warming that a 2015 climate treaty aimed to thwart.
To prevent the most dire consequences of that warming, the report said the world needs to embark on “rapid and far-reaching transitions” in energy production, land use, infrastructure and industry.
Such an effort, which some have compared to the U.S. mobilization during World War II, would need to play out in every country at the same time, and without delay, something the report says has “no documented historic precedent.”
Benjamin Preston leads the Infrastructure Resilience and Environmental Policy Program at the RAND Corporation.
“If we haven’t had enough wake-up calls before, this is certainly a big one.”
But even herculean efforts wouldn’t stop many of global warming’s long-term effects. Sea level rise, for instance, could continue for centuries even once carbon emissions are capped, since warmer air will keep melting ice sheets and glaciers.
“We’ve somewhat locked ourselves into a significant amount of climate change and therefore climate consequences that have to be managed.”
But the increasing inevitability of major climate change doesn’t mean steps to limit it are in vain.
When heads of state signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, they pledged to cap warming since the pre-industrial era at 2℃, and they put in italics that they’d love if warming could be capped at 1.5℃.
If warming hits 2℃ instead of 1.5℃, twice the number of species would lose their habitats, the Antarctic ice sheet would be doomed to irreversible melting, coral reefs would damaged beyond saving and twice the number of humans would face water crises.
In other words, greater ambition now will buy the planet precious extra time to adapt.
“That’s really the big challenge not just for cities and human beings but also for natural ecosystems — giving them the time to adjust, to make investments, to migrate, to implement these changes — the more time we can buy human and natural systems to do that, the better off we’re going to be.”