UN Climate Report: Large-Scale Climate Shifts are Inevitable

By Jamie Condliffe on at

A new draft report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been seen by the New York Times, and the message seems to be clear: our planet is at risk of "severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts" and current attempts to curb it are futile.

The report, intended to be the final one of the year and summarise a string of earlier reports, is due to be published in early November. As a draft, it could still be rewritten, but the copy seen this week by the Times makes for grim reading. It explains that we're fast approaching the point at which the Greenland ice sheet will melt, a process that will be unstoppable and could raise global sea levels by 23 feet.

The draft report lays the blame squarely at the feet of humankind:

"Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reduction in snow and ice, and in global mean-sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases...

"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."

This isn't doom-mongering, but a call to arms. The report explains that climate change could be limited to not exceed the internationally-agreed 2 degrees Celsius rise—but only if we act urgently and with conviction. To do that, it points out that governments can no longer stare at their feet, suggesting that a decade more of political delay would be enough to make catastrophic climate change a reality.

In fact, the report points to some regional and local initiatives-in California and New York, for example—as leading a valiant charge, and suggests that national leaders should be more ambitious and follow their lead. Indeed, the report explains that the failure to heed scientific warnings about the risks to this point have made large-scale climatic shifts inevitable. Now, the report suggests, all we can do is try and make sure they're not catastrophic. [New York Times]

Image by Ali Catterall under Creative Commons license