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New Climate Report Shows Efforts to End Global Warming Are Falling Short. Here's How We Can Get on Track.
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=49317"><span class="small">David Freeman, NBC News</span></a>   
Sunday, 14 October 2018 08:36

Freeman writes: "Why is it so hard to stop climate change? Can we turn the tide? What is required of governmental leaders - and how can citizens help? Licker answered these and other questions in a wide-ranging interview."

Steam and exhaust rise from a power plant in Oberhausen, Germany, on Jan. 6, 2017. (photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images)
Steam and exhaust rise from a power plant in Oberhausen, Germany, on Jan. 6, 2017. (photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images)

New Climate Report Shows Efforts to End Global Warming Are Falling Short. Here's How We Can Get on Track.

By David Freeman, NBC News

14 October 18

Climate scientist Rachel Licker is optimistic that transformative changes can limit sea level rise and help save our coral reefs.

t'll be even harder than we thought.

Three years after representatives of almost 200 nations met in Paris to agree on a set of goals to curb global warming, a U.N. climate advisory group has issued a stark new report indicating that meeting those goals may be much more difficult than previously recognized.

The report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), shows that "we are nowhere near on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement," said Rachel Licker, a senior climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based science advocacy nonprofit. "Current commitments have us on track to reach a level of global warming that is closer to 3 degrees Celsius (C) — far above the 1.5 C and 2 C targets of the Paris agreement."

A couple of degrees might not sound like much. But Licker said it could bring devastating changes in the global environment, including large increases in sea levels and the loss of the world's coral reefs.

Why is it so hard to stop climate change? Can we turn the tide? What is required of governmental leaders — and how can citizens help? Licker answered these and other questions in a wide-ranging interview with NBC News MACH. The interview, conducted via internet chat and email, has been edited for clarity and brevity.

NBC News MACH: The report makes it clear that we must do more to limit the rise in global temperatures — is that right?

That's correct. The report brings greater clarity to the actions necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). It shows society will need to achieve net-zero emissions of carbon dioxide by 2050, and achieve net reductions of other global warming gases by 2030.

One IPCC scientist said the effects of climate change could be irreversible. You've mentioned sea level rise and the loss of coral reefs as possibilities. Can you explain just what's at stake here?

Coral reefs are critical for a variety of reasons. They are home to huge concentrations of marine biodiversity and, as such, are important sources of food as well as tourism revenue. They also provide important services to coastal communities. For example, they help break up storm waters before they make landfall.

Earth's sea level has already risen by about seven or eight inches since 1900. The new report shows that in a 2 C world, sea level rise is projected to be about four inches higher than it would be in a 1.5 C world. That's enough to expose an additional 10 million people around the world to risks from sea level rise.

The report also says the Arctic Ocean could become free of sea ice in the summer — once a century in a 1.5 C world and at least once a decade in a 2 C world. What difference would that make?

If the Arctic Ocean were to have just one summer where the sea ice completely disappeared, this would be catastrophic for species whose life cycle is dependent on Arctic sea ice.

What about severe weather?

The report shows that in midlatitude countries like the U.S., our hottest days are expected to be significantly higher in a 2 C world than in a 1.5 C world — and will only increase from there with more global warming. Eastern North American is among the regions likely to see higher risks from heavy precipitation events — and again, those risks will only be higher with higher levels of global warming. The U.S is also likely to experience other serious impacts, including more intense hurricanes and large wildfires.

What would those changes mean for our health and safety?

Even today, extreme weather events have serious consequences for the health and safety of people in the U.S. and around the world. We only need to look to this year to see how extreme heat waves helped create the conditions for large wildfires in the West, which led to the loss of life and homes. Hurricane Florence led to numerous deaths and damaged infrastructure. And last year's wildfire season and hurricanes tell a similar story. More global warming means more of these kinds of events.

Another IPCC scientist said limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 C was "possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes." What sorts of changes are needed?

Limiting warming to 1.5 or 2 C will require many transformative changes, from the composition of our energy infrastructure to the way we travel to the way we grow and consume food. It will also require using what we know as carbon dioxide removal measures — things like reforesting areas and restoring land so they can take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. While it won't be easy, we have many of the necessary technologies in hand now.

The report makes it clear that to cut carbon dioxide emissions we need large-scale transformations in the way we generate and use electricity, shifting away from fossil fuel-based sources and ramping up renewable energy and energy efficiency. The pathways to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius that were examined in this report also generally include an increase in the share of nuclear energy production and carbon capture and storage.

How realistic is it to think that we'll be able to take the necessary steps?

Countries, states and cities are already making significant strides to step up on reducing global warming emissions. These actions are getting us closer to the Paris Agreement's goals, but we need each and every nation to follow suit.

What about the U.S.?

As one of the biggest emitters of global warming emissions, the U.S. has a big role to play in limiting warming to 1.5 C. The Trump administration's move to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, as well as its moves to roll back other key domestic policies that would reduce our global warming emissions, will only make things harder. Many states, communities, the private sector and other such actors are stepping in to try to fill the gap, but as this report shows now is not the time for scaling back ambition. We need all hands on deck.

Are there things citizens can do to help?

Absolutely. In our daily life, we can take many measures to reduce our global warming emissions. We can reduce our home energy consumption by using more efficient appliances and reduce the amount that we travel by car, using other means of transportation when possible. We can also call upon our elected officials to enact policies that will make it easier and less expensive in the long run for us to reduce our energy use, rely on clean energy sources, and produce fewer global warming emissions.

What about giving up meat?

Meat consumption is a significant source of global warming emissions. Eating less meat is, in general, a way that people can reduce their carbon footprint.

If we're not even on track to limit the temperature rise to 2 C above pre-industrial levels, what hope do we have to keep it below 1.5 C? Isn't the new report ultimately more reason for pessimism about the climate?

Limiting global warming to 1.5 C will certainly not be easy. It will require major societal transformations. At the end of the day, though, whether we enact measures to achieve this is our choice.

We've known about the risks associate with global warming for years now. Why the new report — and why now?

The report was requested by members of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, including the U.S., during the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Member countries recognized that the commitments countries were putting forth at that point were not enough to meet the Paris Agreement goals, so they asked the IPCC to provide them with technical information that could inform their deliberations. The report will serve as key technical input for a discussion at the next U.N. climate change conference in Poland later this year.

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+1 # economagic 2018-10-14 12:01
OK, Ms Licker is a scientist, presumably DOCTOR Licker since she claims or accepts that title. She is also a spokesperson for a respected advocacy organization speaking via the MSM, so is choosing her words carefully to avoid counter-product ive panic, uphold the reputation of the organization, AND color within NBC's corporate lines.

I am neither. My BA in physics and a long lifetime of informal study do not make me a physicist. But I have been following global warming as a scientific and public policy issue since 1972 (sic), know the field pretty well, and am not obligated to make nice.

On one hand (I AM an economist, so have as many hands as needed), it would be impossible to do otherwise in 2-3 minutes for an audience 90% of whom have virtually no understanding of what science is or how it works. On another hand, some commentaries on the report make the situation sound so dismal as to lead that audience to assume we are doomed regardless of what we do. They are supposed to leave such gory details to the dismal pseudo-science of economics.

Reality One is that it is indeed possible to stabilize temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by 2050, or with some overshoot that can be rolled back in years to come.

Reality Two is that the effort required is on the order of the Manhattan Project (atom bomb) times the mobilization for WW II times that for the Apollo project (man on the moon), implemented by 2040 to get us on the path that we knew 20 years ago would be needed.
+4 # economagic 2018-10-14 12:18
To achieve that goal, or even the second-worst case considered in the report, would require dislocations in government and industry on a scale never before even imagined.

We're talking about a significantly lower global energy budget, most of it from relatively low-impact and sustainable sources, and more equitably distributed.

We're talking about converting the entire global transportation system to non-carbon and energy-efficien t modes in a slightly longer run.

We're talking about recognizing that Planet Earth is essentially a closed system, incapable of absorbing anything close to the current level of resource throughput (energy and materials), far beyond our puny efforts at "recycling."

We're talking about new and dubious technology (e.g., carbon capture and storage).

We're talking about massive re-forestation worldwide, as carbon sink and for several other purposes.

We're talking about building in half a century a far more collaborative, cooperative, and democratic world, the only alternative to which would be strict authoritarian rule to coordinate the necessary massive efforts, and that kind of governance has never worked very well.

Sounds impossible, but as Maggie Thatcher said an an almost diametrically opposite sense, "There Is No Alternative." Every person on the planet will make myriad choices and one big one: to roll over and die, or to contribute one's best effort to ushering a new and better order in while ushering the old out.
+6 # DudeistPriest 2018-10-14 14:12
What's lacking is the political will. If people don't rise up and demand action immediately nothing will change. There is no more pressing issue, your life and the lives of your children are at stake. Catastrophe is much closer than you think. 12 years to halve CO2 emissions or you can kiss your kid's future goodbye.
0 # draypoker 2018-10-15 04:59
We can get a large amount of our energy from biological means - digesting leaves and grass to produce Methane in the form of biogas. As it also produces large amounts of organic fertiliser what is not to like? How do I know? Because I have helped introduce it to several African countries where increasing number of small farmers are already producing their own energy from their own farms.
0 # RLF 2018-10-15 06:23
This is an idiotic article. Global warming cannot be addressed without addressing the wastes of global free trade. Shipping all kinds of crap all over the world in order to take advantage of cheap labor and no pollution standards will have to stop. Local production of as much as possible will be necessary but woon't happen because the world's elite are in love with GFT's wealth concentration effects and they control everything. The population problem has to be addressed. The world cannot sustain 9 or 10 billion people even if we all become vegetarians. Our food production is way too based on chemical fertilizers. All of these articles assume way too much of the status quo. That all has to go if the world is not going to experience mass starvation and energy wars. I'm not counting on it.