A synthesis report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published on November 1 in Copenhagen highlights the dire nature of an increasingly-warming planet. The panel reiterated the role humans have played in creating the problem through industrialization and pollution. The report warns that if the majority of energy sources are not low-carbon by 2050, there could be serious consequences. Additionally, they recommend that unrestricted use of fossil fuels be “almost entirely” eliminated by the end of the century. The IPCC report calls for some big changes, but claims they are feasible as long as everyone is willing to work together for the greater good.
“We have the means to limit climate change,” stated IPCC chair Rajendra K. Pachauri in a press release. “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change.”
One of the biggest complaints against moving toward renewable and sustainable sources of energy is the cost. Implementing new ideas will require money, whereas the means of acquiring and using fossil fuels are already in place. However, this short-term thinking will end up costing more in the end, beyond what can just be measured in monetary terms.
Acidification of oceans threatens marine life including hard-shelled animals, coral reefs, and will impact sharks’ hunting abilities. Melting glaciers will result in rising sea levels that displace millions around the globe and destroy infrastructure. Weather will become more erratic as certain areas experience flooding while others deal with droughts. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are the highest they’ve been in 800,000 years, threatening future global food supplies. These are expected to reach unstoppable tipping points if drastic changes to reduce greenhouse emissions are not made soon.
While these changes will affect people living on every continent, those who have the most to lose are the ones who aren’t among the most industrialized (meaning they aren’t contributing to the problem) and depend on local resources to survive. Thus, global initiatives must be done to protect those vulnerable populations.
The report also found that overall, making aggressive changes toward mitigating the effects of climate change and adopting clean energy sources would have limited changes to consumption and growth. The report estimates that these changes could affect growth by about 4% compared to what is currently predicted to occur by 2100. The reduction in pollution would also lead to better heath, reducing lost productivity and hospitalizations, which is not currently tabulated into that figure.
“It is technically feasible to transition to a low-carbon economy,” explained Youba Sokona, co-chair of Working Group III. “But what is lacking are appropriate policies and institutions. The longer we wait to take action, the more it will cost to adapt and mitigate climate change.”
[Header image by Craig Nagy via Flickr. CC BY-SA]