Our planet is warming to dangerous levels and we are largely to blame.
That in essence is the underlying message in the report released on Sunday by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). The United Nations agency warned that greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest in more than 800,000 years, and unless drastic steps are taken to curb those emissions, Earth faces a catastrophe like it has never experienced before.
For the IPCC, the fate of the planet and its inhabitants hangs on one measure of temperature: 2 degrees Celsius. Global warming must be limited to 2 degrees C if we are to avert the deadly fallout from climate change. IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri figured that to achieve that goal, “our emissions should drop by 40 to 70 percent globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100.”
The outlook is not good. The IPCC said the trend points to a
4 degree C increase, which is double the limit. A bigger concern for Mr. Pachauri is that there is “little time before the window of opportunity to stay within 2 degrees C of warming closes.”
If the threshold is not maintained, expect an apocalyptic scenario of flood, drought, rising sea level and the extinction of several species, the IPCC said. There will be a desperate scramble among humans for food and other scant resources.
Chaos and conflict will rule. Kill or survive will be the order of the day.
The frightening thing is that we are making that scenario happen. It is not the first time the specter of global warming has been raised; there have been countless warnings in the past. Every time, the international community duly expressed its concern and offered financial pledges. But when the issue waned, erased from the public consciousness, the interest slowly vanished. The prevailing thinking was global warming carries no immediacy. Its effects are not immediately apparent, not like an earthquake or a particularly destructive storm. Action on climate change can wait.
The cycle is repeated today. The United States was one of the first to react to the IPCC report, with Secretary of State John Kerry describing it as “another canary in the coal mine.”
French President Francois Hollande weighed in, calling global warming one of the “big challenges” the international community faces and pledging his country will act for the “wellbeing . . . of the planet”.
Expect other world leaders to deliver similar messages in the coming days.
But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wants action, not mere pledges. “We must act quickly and decisively if we want to avoid increasingly disruptive outcomes,” Mr. Ban said.
The nations who are in the best position to fight global warming—the US and China, to name two—are reluctant to totally commit to the campaign because they insist they cannot shoulder the huge cost of reducing greenhouse emissions alone. They want developing nations to help foot the bill as well.
But Mr. Ban said the high cost of reducing emissions is a myth, and climate experts agree with him.
Perhaps there is a deeper reason why the wealthier nations are dragging their feet on the problem of global warming. To cut down on greenhouse gases means a dramatic shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources. Weaning the world from carbon-based fuels could have a profound effect on the global economy and upset the delicate balance of oil supply and demand.
Oil producing and exporting countries feel threatened by such a shift.
Their reluctance to embrace clean energy will have tragic consequences for the planet.