October 7, 2018; New York Times and Washington Post
A new United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a dire picture, writes Coral Davenport in the New York Times. The report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), minces few words, describing “a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires” resulting from continued climate change. The report also indicates that, given current trends, a mass “die-off” of coral reefs by 2040 is highly likely.
The challenge facing the world is daunting. As Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis write in the Washington Post, to avoid these kinds of outcomes “would mean that, in a world projected to have more than two billion additional people by 2050, large swaths of land currently used to produce food would instead have to be converted to growing trees that store carbon and crops designated for energy use.” They add that,
Most strikingly, the document says the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, which amount to more than 40 billion tons per year, would have to be on an extremely steep downward path by 2030 to either hold the world entirely below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or allow only a brief “overshoot” in temperatures. As of 2018, emissions appeared to be still rising, not yet showing the clear peak that would need to occur before any decline.
By 2050, the report calls for a total or near-total phaseout of the burning of coal.
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The report is all the more stunning because IPCC is known to be conservative, write Mooney and Dennis. “If you’re expecting IPCC to jump up and down and wave red flags, you’re going to be disappointed,” Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center, informed the Post. “They’re going to do what they always do, which is to release very cautious reports in extremely dispassionate language.”
A total of 91 scientists from 40 countries participated in the writing and editing of the report. Their work was based on the analysis of more than 6,000 scientific studies. Peer review involved “tens of thousands” of comments, add Mooney and Dennis.
The report estimates carbon emissions by nation as follows:
|China||10.15 billion tons|
|United States||5.31 billion tons|
|India||2.3 billion tons|
|Russia||1.63 billion tons|
|Japan||1.21 billion tons|
|Germany||0.8 billion tons|
|Iran||0.66 billion tons|
|Saudi Arabia||0.63 billion tons|
|South Korea||0.59 billion tons|
|Canada||0.56 billion tons|
|Rest of world||12.34 billion tons|
|Total direct emissions||36.18 billion tons|
|Loss from deforestation, etc.||4.65 billion tons|
|Total carbon emissions||40.83 billion tons|
As the report outlines, human activities have already caused warming of about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, or one degree Celsius, since the burning of coal first became widespread in the 1850s. The report authors contend that while it is technically possible to avoid reaching 2.7 degrees of warming, it would be politically difficult to do so. “For instance,” explains Davenport, “the report says that heavy taxes or prices on carbon dioxide emissions—perhaps as high as $27,000 per ton by 2100—would be required.”At the current rate of warming, the IPCC estimates that temperatures could rise 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040, “inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty,” writes Davenport. Avoiding the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years. The report authors estimate that the monetary value of damages will total $54 trillion if the world reaches temperatures that are 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
“Absent aggressive action, many effects once expected only several decades in the future will arrive by 2040,” notes Davenport, citing the report.
According to Davenport, achieving the Paris goals would require reducing carbon emissions by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050. It would also require reducing the use of coal from close to 40 percent of electricity today to less than seven percent by 2050. (This assumes that carbon sinks permit small levels of continued fossil fuel use while maintaining a “net zero” balance). Renewable energy such as wind and solar, which produce about 20 percent of electricity today, would have to increase to as much as 67 percent.—Steve Dubb