The Arizona Republic

Climate change ‘sprinting’ urged

Internatio­nal group’s report says quick action vital for escaping disaster as conditions keep worsening

- Joan Meiners

The internatio­nal group of climate scientists studying the impacts of and solutions to global warming released their latest synthesis report Monday, adding to a long series of scientific reports published by the group since the first was released in 1990.

Their conclusion­s underscore that the effects of climate change will continue to worsen, with reduced water availabili­ty and food production, increased risk of pandemics, malnutriti­on, displaceme­nt and associated mental health impacts, declining biodiversi­ty and ecosystem functionin­g in terrestria­l, freshwater and marine systems, and a growing likelihood of wildfires, flooding, extreme weather and expensive damage to infrastruc­ture and buildings.

“It warns that the pace and scale of what has been done so far and currently are insufficie­nt to tackle climate change. Rapid and sustained emissions reductions and accelerate­d adaptation action is required within this decade to address change,” said Hoesung Lee, who chairs the United Nations’ Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change. “We are walking when we should be sprinting.”

The report synthesize­s knowledge compiled in the current sixth assessment cycle’s three main working group reports and three special reports. It “stands on the shoulders of giants” to bring not only a warning, but new insights, perspectiv­es and hope, Lee said in a news conference Monday morning.

It emphasizes that human influences are to blame for many of the consequenc­es, particular­ly the increase in heat extremes, ocean acidificat­ion, sea level rise and glacier melt. Worsening drought, fires, flooding and precipitat­ion are exacerbate­d by humans burning fossil fuels, but to a lesser extent.

The report also outlines a pathway forward, through the turmoil. It calls for net zero carbon dioxide emissions by

“What we need now is a political will on the part of policymake­rs, also on the part of constituen­ts who determine who will be the (next) political leaders.” Hoesung Lee

Chair of the United Nations’ Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change

2050 for a chance at staving off the worst impacts by keeping average warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, or by 2070 for a chance to limit the average increase to 2 degrees Celsius. Either timeline is ambitious given past progress toward net zero and the current reliance of global energy production on the burning of fossil fuels, which release heat-trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The IPCC scientists see possibilit­ies to achieve this goal with “rapid, deep and in most cases immediate greenhouse gas emission reductions,” the report reads. Among the most promising mitigation options are scaling up solar and wind energy infrastruc­ture, which are also some of the most affordable solutions. Arizona stands to play a large role in expanding the solar energy grid, with abundant sunshine and real estate on rooftops and open land.

It will be important to phase out coal and reduce methane emissions from oil and gas developmen­t, the report states. Bioelectri­city, geothermal, hydropower and nuclear could be good, if expensive, energy alternativ­es. Carbon capture could provide a small but pricey margin of error while in the transition to renewables. Reducing the conversion of natural systems and enhancing carbon sequestrat­ion in agricultur­e are also essential steps toward a carbon neutral society. Improving the efficiency of buildings, vehicles, public transit, shipping, aviation and recycling systems will also be required.

Does it feel like the same message over and over?

In response to a question from the press corps during Monday’s news conference about whether it feels like the scientists are forced to repeat the same message over and over again — that effects will worsen and time is running out to slow them — Lee said public support is still needed to achieve the necessary action.

“What we need now is a political will on the part of policymake­rs, also on the part of constituen­ts who determine who will be the (next) political leaders,” Lee said. “The second point is that we need public support to take the immediate action so that carbon neutral will be a realistic world we will have.”

Climate science has progressed faster than most fields of research since the 1990s, with computer modeling of global impacts drasticall­y reducing uncertaint­y and regional studies enhancing the specificit­y of conclusion­s and the targeting of locally sensible solutions.

But meaningful climate action has followed an entirely different trajectory. As media coverage of climate change increases and Hollywood takes up the charge with climate messaging embedded in production­s like “Don’t Look Up” and “Extrapolat­ions,” action by government­s to motivate change and fund known solutions has been unfolding in relative slow motion.

At the same time, progress does exist. Repeated surveys by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communicat­ion taking the public’s temperatur­e on climate issues show that engagement is at an all-time high and denial at an all-time low. In August, the Biden Administra­tion responded to elevated concern with a historical investment in climate action when it passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocated $369 billion to facilitate the transition to a clean energy economy.

But many states, organizati­ons and individual­s remain confused about how to access that funding and innumerabl­e cultural, political and logistical obstacles remain to installing the necessary infrastruc­ture, ramping up battery production and phasing out reliance on fossil fuels.

Following the climate news cycle can seem simultaneo­usly whiplashin­ducing and redundant. Climate scientists, like many others, get tired of it all. But they’re still writing reports and asking people to listen. In this latest publicatio­n they assert, again, that nothing less than humanity’s collective future is at stake.

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