On Sunday, November 2nd, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their Synthesis Report. It does not make for pleasant reading. The U.N backed expert panel has cited that the unrestricted use of fossil fuel should be phased out by 2100 if the world wants to avoid “dangerous” climate change. The risks associated with the continued release of greenhouse gasses are so grave that they might stall or even reverse generations of progress in the fight against poverty and hunger.
The IPCC maintains that the “there is no ambiguity” about the progress of climate change and has “high confidence” that in absence of any action, the high temperature and humidity will compromise agricultural production and even preclude outdoor work in certain regions. Some have even theorized that an increase in global temperature may have an adverse effect on the development of male fetuses, altering the human gender ratio.
A report by Risky Business, a think-tank which examines the effects of climate change on economic issues, reiterated that the study “details the costs of inaction in ways that easy to understand in dollars and cents- and impossible to ignore”.
The damage is already visible, in the form of storms, floods and heat waves that are costing billions of dollars to local economies near coastal areas. By the year 2050, coastal property worth $106 billion will likely be underwater in the US alone. Michael Bloomberg compared climate change to a highly risk form of borrowing: interest-only loan. He added that future generations “will be stuck paying off the cumulative interest on the greenhouse gas emissions we’re putting into the atmosphere now, with no possibility of actually paying down that ‘emission principal’”.
Additionally, the study warned that the rising temperatures and the altered weather patterns in the United States would exacerbate existing health issues. Heat strokes, cardiac arrest and other temperature-related illnesses are expected to see a dramatic increase as the number of extremely hot days rises. By 2050, it is projected that New York City could experience 3 times as many ‘extremely hot’ days as currently.
However, climate scientists are still facing an onerous battle convincing the American public of the existence of climate change, let alone the required urgency in response. Only 54 percent of Americans surveyed in a study during the summer of 2014 agreed to the statement, “The climate change we are seeing is largely the result of human activity”. The U.S, despite indicating a majority in response, ranks at least ten points lower than the other skeptics on the list, Britain and Australia, where 64 percent agreed that humans have a big hand in causing the climate change. China topped the list, with 93 percent of its citizens agreeing that humans have a direct impact on climate change. Other large majorities were present in France (80%) and Brazil (79%)
Furthermore, only 57 percent of Americans agreed with the statement, “We are heading for an environmental disaster unless we changed our habits quickly,” the lowest percentage of any country tabulated. China once again topped the list with 91 percent of its population in agreement.
Despite the grim projections, the report also offered a ray of hope. The costs associated with the mitigating action of energy systems to solar, wind power or other renewable sources and increasing the energy efficiency will only cause a 0.06 percent annual decline in the world’ economic growth. However, these figures are reliant on the abandonment of almost all remaining untapped reserves, even ones already booked by mining companies, unless, of course, a highly effective methods to capture and bury the emissions resulting from their use is developed.
The panel underscored the necessity of the governmental action. If the governments want to limit the global warming to 2 degree Celsius rise above the pre-industrial levels, the target acknowledged in 2009 as the threshold of dangerous climate change, then they need to make crucial political changes. The report suggests that the world already has the necessary technologies required for the shift, and is only awaiting the advent of new policies.
However, the biggest obstacle in devising such policies is deciding which country will take on what role. The rich countries are calling on China and other major developing countries to adhere to ambitious targets, which is likely to have a major impact on the developing countries’ economies. The developing countries maintain that the rich countries have the historical responsibility to lead the battle against global warming and to help the poorer nations manage the impacts. The IPCC has taken a neutral stance and has only stated that the people who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally, or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change.
It is a fair criticism. The political shift will be difficult to execute. Even though the economies might not suffer, due to the increased job opportunities in development, installation and production of new technologies, countries will require major redistribution of capital. The renewable sector will have to grow by 80 percent, which lobbyists, paid millions by the fossil fuel companies, will vehemently oppose. The policymakers and the media will have to create a dramatic shift in the beliefs of millions that deny the existence of climate change. Additionally, countries will have to forgo their immediate personal interests to incorporate the actions required on the global scale to tackle this complex issue.
This report has handed policymakers a scientific road-map for the U.N climate negotiations that will continue next month in Lima, Peru. This will be the last conference before the major summit next year in Paris, where the policymakers are supposed to formulate a new global agreement to stall the advancement of climate change. Now is the time to move beyond the politicization of climate science as the longer we wait for action, the greater the costs will be.
As John Kerry put it: “Those who choose to ignore or dispute the science so clearly laid out in this report do so at great risk for all of us and for our kids and grandkids.”