Mine. Yours. Humanity’s.
And we’re all going to pay the price.
That’s the bottom line of the first mega-report already issued this week (two more to come) by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) … the most authoritative and broadly based of the entities studying global climate.
Four thousand pages of analysis, spewing alarming facts like:
- Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850. Human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last2000 years. With every additional increment of global warming, changes in extremes continue to become larger – for example, extreme daily precipitation events are projected to intensify by about 7% for each 1°C of global warming … get ready Napier!
- Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.
- In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years and concentrations of methane were higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years.
- The global nature of glacier retreat, with almost all of the world’s glaciers retreating synchronously, since the 1950s is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years.
- Global mean sea level has risen faster since 1900 than over any preceding century in at least the last 3000 years. The global ocean has warmed faster over the past century than since the end of the last deglacial transition (around 11,000 years ago).
- Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence, has strengthened.
- And on and on.
All supporting the report’s most quoted conclusion:
“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”
This is a conclusion agreed upon unanimously by all 195 governments that make up the IPCC. It was crafted from thousands of scientific studies subjected to peer review over the past eight years.
But undoubtedly there will be many armchair experts – Hawke’s Bay will have its fair share – who disagree, mostly on Facebook.
That statement is a giant leap from the IPCC’s prescient observation in its first 1990 report: “The unequivocal detection of the enhanced greenhouse effect from observations is not likely for a decade or more.”
Then in 1995: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”
Then in 2013: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
An enormous amount of scientific enterprise has gone into separating out the ‘natural’ (e.g., volcanos, solar output) from the human induced impacts on climate change. All leading to the term “unequivocal” in this latest report.
This first report just deals with the physical evidence and realities of climate change. It sets the stage for additional reports that will discuss policies and broader implications of this accelerating disaster.
Just one of five scenarios presented in the report – and not the most likely one – suggests that it is possible to achieve the goal of eliminating carbon dioxide pollution by 2050, as scientists are pleading.
We will certainly crash through the 1.5°C threshold beyond which global warming becomes more destructive. A glimmer of hope is presented in the finding that if emissions are curbed, heating will stop (although other effects will persist) … a new science consensus grounded in the latest data.
The two additional reports will address: a) climate change impacts on communities, societies and economies and how they might adapt to cope, and b) ways of curbing emissions and reining in climate change.
With these in hand, diplomats will meet in November in Glasgow Scotland for what might become one of the most pivotal negotiating sessions in human history. In preparation for that, almost 200 participating countries should have updated their pledges for emissions reductions (NDCs, or Nationally Determined Contributions).
When tallied, will they add up to enough? The report states with “high confidence” that nations are already failing to meet their existing Paris goals.
The report states that “strong, rapid and sustained reductions in methane emissions” could be crucial to meeting a 1.5C or 2C degree target. That’s because methane has strong warming effect on the climate in a relatively short amount of time. Methane is responsible for 25% of the warming that we are experiencing now.
For New Zealand (and pastoral farming Hawke’s Bay) and our population of cows, the increasing spotlight on methane emissions threatens to tarnish our clean, green image. The Government will need set its NDC, which must include methane reductions, in time for Glasgow, amidst environmentalists’ complaints that the NZ Climate Change Commission has been too soft on the agriculture sector in its recommendations.
Dairy emissions rose 3.18% in NZ in 2019, compared with industry emissions rising 2.5% awhile household emissions declined by 0.3%.
As climate sentinel Greta Thunberg tweeted this week: “New Zealand is one of the world’s worst performers on emission increases. Its emissions rose by 57 per cent between 1990 and 2018 – the second greatest increase of all industrialised countries.”
However one regards Ms Thunberg’s expertise, we note that she was citing this article – ‘Emissions from cows on New Zealand dairy farms reach record levels’ – from The Guardian, which does garner a bit of attention in global Influencer circles.