Global warming report falls short of honest truth
The special report on global warming contains terrifying forecasts about what will happen when we reach an average global temperature 1.5 C degrees higher than the preindustrial average. (We already are at plus-one.) But it still shies away from talking about the feedbacks, the refugees, and mass death.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ordered this special report in 2015, after the Paris climate agreement effectively admitted the traditional target — stopping the warming before it reaches two degrees C higher — had been set too high. By then, really bad things already would be happening.
So, all the countries that want to stop the warming before it goes runaway (everybody except the United States) said governments should aspire to stop the warming earlier, at plus-1.5C. And they asked the IPCC to figure out how hard that would be.
The answer, revealed at a meeting in South Korea on Sunday, is: very hard. There is very little time left. In order to skid to a halt, brakes on hard, before we hit plus-1.5C, we will have to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by almost half (45 per cent) during the next twelve years.
To cut emissions that fast by 2030, we would have to decide to close down all remaining coal-fired power plants within the next two years. It would take the next decade to get that done and get the same energy from expanded renewable sources (water, wind and solar), leaving us just on track to reach zero emissions by 2050.
Climate scientist John Skea, who worked on the report, summed it up: “Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics, but doing so would require unprecedented changes.” Changes of a scale that people would readily accept if they faced an imminent invasion by Nazis or Martians, but that they are less willing to make when their environment is at risk.
The report effectively says we can’t afford to go anywhere near plus-two C. It talks bluntly about the need to end all fossil fuel use, reforest vast tracts of marginal land, and cut down on meat-eating. It even admits we probably will have to resort to geoengineering such as “solar radiation management.”
However, governments don’t like to talk about the mass movements of refugees and the civil and international wars that will erupt when the warming cuts into the food supply. And they don’t want to talk openly about the feedbacks.
Governments take climate change very seriously these days, but they worry too much frankness about the cost, in lives, of going past 1.5C will create irresistible pressure on them to take radical action now. In the ensuing struggle between the scientists and the politicians, the executive summary always gets toned down.
What got removed from the summary this time was any mention of “significant population displacement concentrated in the tropics” at plus-two C.
Even worse, “tipping points” barely are mentioned in the report. These are the dreaded feedbacks — loss of Arctic sea ice, melting of the permafrost, carbon dioxide and methane release from the oceans — that would trigger unstoppable, runaway warming.
They are called feedbacks because they are self-reinforcing processes unleashed by the warming we already have caused.
If you don’t go into the feedbacks, you can’t talk about runaway warming, and going to four, five or six degrees C higher average global temperature, and hundreds of millions or billions of deaths. And if you don’t acknowledge that, you will not treat this as the emergency it is.