Just the Facts
Five Facts on Climate Change
By Emma Petasis
October 9, 2018 | Blog
On Monday, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report on the dire consequences of global warming. The report contained stark warnings about food shortages and increased natural disasters before unequivocally stating that the only way to mitigate the effects of climate change is to implement “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Here are five facts on the report and on climate change:
The findings in the report reveal that we are much closer to causing irreversible damage to our planet than previously thought
The report was written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries and analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies. The report concluded that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at their current rate the atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040. This could have devastating effects, which include the inundation of coastlines and intensifying droughts. Another troubling aspect of the report is that scientists believe this damage could happen even at lower temperature thresholds. Researchers had previously focused much of their work on the effects of a rise of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), as this was the threshold that scientists believed, if eclipsed, would inflict permanent damage on the planet’s climate.
Carbon emissions have increased drastically over the past 100 years
The world produced more than 30 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2016, compared to fewer than 5 billion metric tons in 1920. At present, China produces by far the most carbon emissions, releasing more than 10 billion metric tons. In contrast, the U.S., the second largest producer of carbon emissions released more than 6 billion tons. However, the U.S. far exceeds other countries in terms of per capita emissions, as it produces about 20 tons of carbon dioxide per person. Comparatively, China releases only about 7 tons of carbon dioxide per person.
The report lists sea-level rise, increased rate of natural disasters, and the destruction of vast ecosystems as some of climate change’s greatest dangers
Climate change is expected to bring about vast reductions in yields of maize, rice, wheat, and other cereal crops, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. In addition, climate change could have devastating effects on livestock, as it will likely hurt their quality of nutrition, increase the spread of disease, and limit access to water. Furthermore, scientists warn that drought and increased temperatures due to climate change will increase the frequency and strength of wildfires around the globe. Finally, scientists warn that rising water temperatures could cause a mass die-off of coral reefs, which provide food and coastal protection for half a billion people worldwide.
The world would need to reduce its emissions at an unprecedented level to avoid permanent damage to the planet
In order for the world to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, global net emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach “net zero” emissions around 2050. For this to happen the global community would need to embrace widespread changes in energy, industry, buildings, transportation and cities according to the report. As Andrew King, a lecturer in climate science at the University of Melbourne stated, “The window on keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees C is closing rapidly.”
Scientists have laid out several strategies to help meet these ambitious goals
There are two main ways to control carbon emissions in the world: lower the output of emissions and reduce the amount of carbon present through both natural processes and man-made technology. In order to curb the output of carbon emissions scientists explained that “virtually all of the coal plants and gasoline-burning vehicles on the planet would need to be quickly replaced with zero-carbon alternatives.” This drastic step would need to be paired with significant advancements in carbon capturing strategies. One possible course of action is planting new trees; however, this would require a massive undertaking that would have to reallocate land currently used for farming. Other possibilities include the implementation of carbon-scrubbing technologies, which the report warned “are at different stages of development and some are more conceptual than others, as they have not been tested at scale.”