UN climate change report warns of 'irreversible' impacts

A draft UN climate change report finds that global warming could be irreversible, painting a harsh warning of what's causing global warming and what it will do to humans and the environment. It also offers ways to curb climate change. 

By , Associated Press

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    Steam rises from the stakes of the coal-fired Jim Bridger Power Plant outside Point of the Rocks, Wyoming. A new UN climate change report finds that the global warming trend may be irreversible.
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Global warming is here, human-caused and probably already dangerous — and it's increasingly likely that the heating trend could be irreversible, a draft of a new international science report says.

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Monday sent governments a final draft of its synthesis report, which combines three earlier, gigantic documents by the Nobel Prize-winning group. There is little in the report that wasn't in the other more-detailed versions, but the language is more stark and the report attempts to connect the different scientific disciplines studying problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas.

The 127-page draft, obtained by The Associated Press, paints a harsh warning of what's causing global warming and what it will do to humans and the environment. It also describes what can be done about it.

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"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," the report says. The final report will be issued after governments and scientists go over the draft line by line in an October conference in Copenhagen.

Depending on circumstances and values, "currently observed impacts might already be considered dangerous," the report says. It mentions extreme weather and rising sea levels, such as heat waves, flooding and droughts. It even raises, as an earlier report did, the idea that climate change will worsen violent conflicts and refugee problems and could hinder efforts to grow more food. And ocean acidification, which comes from the added carbon absorbed by oceans, will harm marine life, it says.

Without changes in greenhouse gas emissions, "climate change risks are likely to be high or very high by the end of the 21st century," the report says.

In 2009, countries across the globe set a goal of limiting global warming to about another 2 degrees Fahrenheit (-16.67 Celsius) above current levels. But the report says that it is looking more likely that the world will shoot past that point. Limiting warming to that much is possible but would require dramatic and immediate cuts in carbon dioxide pollution.


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The report says if the world continues to spew greenhouse gases at its accelerating rate, it's likely that by mid-century temperatures will increase by about another 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) compared to temperatures from 1986 to 2005. And by the end of the century, that scenario will bring temperatures that are about 6.7 degrees warmer (3.7 degrees Celsius).

It comes on the heels of a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that found policies aimed at curbing climate change are paid for by savings in healthcare and other sectors of the economy. As the Monitor's Jared Gilmour reported Monday:

Cutting emissions might lower health spending so drastically that the US could end up saving ten times more than it would cost to implement carbon reductions, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study published Sunday in thejournal Nature Climate Change.

Environmentalists have long argued that curbing pollution is good for protecting local habitats and public health. Recently, though, the push for tighter environmental protections has sometimes shifted the focus from human health and conservation to climate change. The MIT study ties both environmental paradigms together, demonstrating how policies targeting carbon emissions can boost public health by reducing the more conventional pollutants emitted alongside greenhouse gases. 

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Online:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: http://www.ipcc.ch/

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