The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is body of thousands of scientists from around the world who are collaborating on an understanding of global warming, its causes, and how we as a society should address the risk of climate change. It was formed in 1988 under the auspices of the United Nations Environmental Program. It is preposterous to think that this international group of scientists have any hidden agenda or are manipulating the data they gather for nefarious means.
The data they gather, the conclusions they reach, and the policy recommendations they make are all determined by consensus among the many scientists and open to the public for scrutiny. Every five years they issue an update on the current state of knowledge concerning global warming. The Fifth Assessment Report(AR5) provides a clear and most up to date view of the current state of scientific knowledge relevant to climate change.
The new report shows that global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels despite a growing number of policies to reduce climate change. Emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades.
The emission of green house gases is causally linked to global warming, and the outlook is challenging if not down right grim. To reverse the effects of global warming or to at least limit the rise in global temperature to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) will require major institutional and technological change to give a better than even chance that global warming will not exceed this threshold.
There is a clear message from the scientists, “to avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.” Simply to hold the temperature rise to 2 degrees will require reductions of green house gases from 40 to 70 per cent compared with 2010 by mid-century, and to near-zero by the end of this century.
Economic analysis for a business as usual scenario suggests consumption will increase between 0.6 to 3.0 per cent per year. With controls to meet the aforementioned goals that growth will be lowered by .06 percent per year. Growth will not disappear, but rather be reduced by 10 to 20 per cent from business as usual. This analysis does not consider the beneficial effects of a more stable environment and cleaner air.
A large share of the goal can be met by reducing electricity production from fossil fuel sources to near zero. A range of technologies are available but wind and solar strategies alone can meet the goal, assuming the development of a more robust system of transmission and storage for these intermittent energy sources.
The alternative to action will be a hotter world with more severe storms. Both droughts and floods can follow changes in climate. The ocean will continue to acidify creating an inexorable die off of significant numbers of species. Climate instability will stress political stability as countries vie for resources threatened by climate change.
Crop production will fall. As climate shifts so will food production, from locales with ideal conditions to locales with poorer soil and or moisture conditions.
Each and every one of us needs to ask ourselves just what are we willing to do to ensure that the future we leave to our descendants is as stable and prosperous as that we inherited from our ancestors.