In what is expected to make for grim reading, the world’s leading climate scientists will give their latest assessment about the dangers of global warming next week.
They will warn us about things we already know: the burning of fossil fuels is already causing across the globe. They will also shed light on the kinds of future climate impacts we can expect during the lifetimes of children born today, depending on the choices we make today.
If you can’t wait, check out the video from the World Bank, which sums up in two minutes what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will elaborate on in more than 2,000 pages after finalizing its study in Japan this week.
Is climate change slipping out of control?
The report follows another wave of weird, extreme weather around the world, from the blistering heatwaves in Australia to ferociously cold weather in North America to flooding in the UK and the devastation of Supertyphoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Millions of people suffered as a result, losing, their loved-ones, their homes, and their livelihoods.
These events have not happened in isolation.
Last year the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said the world experienced unprecedented high-impact climate extremes during 2001-2010. It was indeed the warmest decade since the start of modern measurements in 1850 and has been dubbed the decade of climate extremes.
The first part of the IPCC’s fifth Assessment Report, launched last September, outlined how our greenhouse gas pollution has already warmed the atmosphere and oceans, melted glaciers, raised sea levels, changed water cycles, and worsened some extreme weather events.
There also are alarming signs of accelerating impacts. In the years 2002-2011, the Greenland ice sheet lost mass about six times faster on average than the preceding decade. The Antarctic ice sheet lost mass five times faster.
Since 1993 sea levels have risen twice as fast than they did in the past century on average, and sea ice in the Arctic diminished significantly faster than projected.
Do we really need yet another warning?
A major shift in the upcoming IPCC report is on the subject of choice.
We can reduce and manage the risks ahead and do what’s needed to keep warming as far below 2 degrees Celsius as possible. Or we can continue to do too little too late, drifting from crisis to crisis towards disaster. The IPCC will paint a picture of both these possible futures.
Governments have promised to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius. But their action belie their words, sending us instead towards a 4 degree world. What’s worse, most governments neither preparing for a 2 degree nor a 4 degree world, choosing instead to ignroe the megatrend of climate change.
The truth is they can’t ignore it. That’s what the UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, a climate change denier, had to learn recently in the middle of the devastating UK floods.
In a climate-constrained world there is no business as usual. Building new coal plants with massive water footprints in areas that are already suffering from water shortage, soon to be exacerbated by climate change, is just not going to work.
Not everyone is hiding their head in the sand though. Millions of people around the world are already facing the reality of climate change and responding to it. They are preparing for a world that phases out fossil fuels and they are already making a difference.
Coal plants are being cancelled and self-controlled renewable energy systems installed. The fossil fuel divestment campaign is swiftly growing, and people are standing up in millions to protect our forests, the Arctic, and other riches threatened by climate change.
We can still prevent catastrophic climate change, but we need to get on with it.