The UN’s New Report on Global Warming Is the Most Terrifying Yet

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This undated handout photo provided by NASA shows the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctic. Two new studies indicate that part of the huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting a slow collapse in an unstoppable way. Alarmed scientists say that means even more sea level rise than they figured. (AP Photo/NASA)
The Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctic. (AP Photo/NASA)

The New York Times and Bloomberg News got a look at a draft of a new UN report on climate change. It’s bleak, to say the least.

From the Times:

Runaway growth on the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report.

Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control.

The world may already be nearing a temperature at which the loss of the vast ice sheet covering Greenland would become inevitable, the report said. The actual melting would then take centuries, but it would be unstoppable and could result in a sea level rise of 23 feet, with additional increases from other sources like melting Antarctic ice, potentially flooding the world’s major cities.

The draft report is the latest from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and summarizes earlier reports using “blunter, more forceful language.” Read Justin Gillis’ full article for the Times here.

The IPCC’s dire outlook comes amid tentative signs that the needle might be moving on the issue. Earlier this summer, the Obama administration announced plans to implement what is essentially a state-by-state cap and trade program. China announced its intention to do the same.

But one of the central points of the IPCC report is that some of what we’ve wrought is already irreversible, and more of it soon will be. The world’s existing power plants are already slated to pump over 300 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — a figure that’s growing by billions of tons each year, speeding up the changes that are already underway. Governments’ efforts to do something are a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed.

In November of 2015, the international community will convene for the next UN Climate Conference in Paris with the hope of hammering out a lasting international treaty to control emissions. Some veterans of previous talks describe the Paris Conference as the “last chance” to avert the more dangerous effects of global warming. With luck, the IPCC’s increasingly dire warnings will add even more urgency to the talks — and perhaps bring about the consensus negotiators have sought for decades.

John Light is a writer and digital producer for the Moyers team. His work has appeared in a number of publications, including The Atlantic, Grist and Vox. You can follow him on Twitter at @LightTweeting.
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