Or do you? It’s time to pay attention to climate change now—as if it wasn’t back in 1800, when our current problems started.
We all need to acknowledge that stunning industrial achievements can carry with them enormous unforeseen risks and challenges. Americans should take particular note, because on the whole we are wa-a-a-y behind on this. “The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen,” says the intergovernment community on climate change (IPCC). Climate change has already raised world temperatures over the past two centuries by about 1.5 degrees F (almost 1 degree C) and has begun to raise sea level, alter ecosystems, affect agriculture, and impair life on the planet with flood, heat, drought, and storms.
The world’s finest scientists and climate policy advisors have just finished drafting their Synthesis Report of climate information most recently published in scientific, technical, and socioeconomic literature worldwide. Media outlets such as The New York Times and USA Today have received prepublication copies.
The new United Nations report is not prescriptive. Rather, it aims to give policymakers in every country access not only to the current science of climate change, but to also potential impacts and the options we have for adaptation and mitigation.
Several years in the making, the climate synthesis draft measures “severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts” that a changing climate has begun to impose and will continue to press on the planet. It went out yesterday to the leaders of every government in the world for review and comments on the text and conclusions.
The climate synthesis presents some clear warnings, and an even more compelling picture than all the other climate summaries published to date. Justin Gillis of The New York Times puts it this way:
“Using blunter, more forceful language than the reports that underpin it, the [fifth IPCC assessment synthesis] draft highlights the urgency of the risks that are likely to be intensified by continued emissions of heat-trapping gases, primarily carbon dioxide, released by the burning of fossil fuels.”
The 127-page report integrates the key messages from the extensive reports of three working sessions:
- Physical science of climate change (September 2013),
- Impacts, adaptations, and vulnerability (March 2014), and
- Mitigation measures (April 2014).
The review period for the report started this week and will run to October 10, 2014. Thousands of comments received from governments and other reviewers by then will be integrated into the draft climate synthesis. You’ll find details of the review process here.
Rajendra K. Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, says that the report will “help governments and other stakeholders work together at various levels, including a new international agreement to limit climate change.” Such an agreement becomes more important every day. Conflicting national priorities have delayed multilateral progress for years. These include the urgent needs of small island nations immediately threatened by sea level rise and also much hypocritical foot-dragging on funding by very developed countries. In these contexts, IPCC takes care to acknowledge independent advances by regional, local, and nongovernment organizations.
At a meeting in Copenhagen at the end of October, world governments will finalize the climate synthesis by reviewing with its authors both the report’s summary for policymakers (line-by-line) and the complete report (section-by-section). Conclusions could thus change before the report’s ultimate release at a press conference on November 2.