UN report on climate change calls for urgent action

A Special Report on Climate Change was released by the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Aug. 8, focusing on greenhouse gas emissions and its links to desertification, land degradation and food security. The report warns that the “rise in global temperatures, linked to increasing pressures on fertile soil,” risks “jeopardizing food security for the planet.” According to the report, about a quarter of the Earth’s ice-free land area is subject to human-induced degradation, such as soil erosion and desertification. The effects of global warming have led to “shifts of climate zones in many world regions,” further exacerbating land degradation, and leading to extreme weather conditions such as floods and droughts. The reports warns: “The stability of food supply is projected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that disrupt food chains increases.”

The UN Refugee Agency sees “disaster-based displacement” as a growing threat, with growing numbers “being forcibly displaced from their homes by the effects of climate change and disasters.”

The IPCC report provides immediate potential responses to climate change, including forms of “carbon sequestration” such reforestation, afforestation, reduced deforestation, and “bioenergy.” But it also cautions that “[w]idespread use” of “bioenergy crops” could “increase risks for desertification, land degradation, food security and sustainable development.”

Debra Roberts, co-chair of the Working Group that produced the report, emphasized: “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors is essential if we want to keep the load two degrees Celsius.” Hans-Otto Pörtner, another Working Group co-chair, added that “the capacity to adapt is limited.”

From Jurist, Aug. 8. Used with permission.

Notes: The Paris Agreement, adopted at a December 2015 UN summit, permits a 2°C increase by 2030, but calls upon signatories to work towards a 1.°C increase. The safe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is estimated at 350 parts per million; the planet recently surpassed 410 ppm, unprecedented in millions of years.

The UN Refugee Agency notes that the term “climate refugee,” often used in the media, does not exist in international law. It refers instead to “persons displaced in the context of disasters and climate change.”

Photo of Tantaverom region of Chad via UNDP

  1. Growing signs of climate catastrophe

    A mountaineer has captured the formation of an “alarming” lake at 11,000 feet in the French Alps after glacial snow melted in the intense heatwave that gripped central Europe in late June. (The Independent, July 16) Several lightning strikes were detected just 300 miles from the North Pole on Aug. 10, something rarely seen in that region of the Arctic Ocean, and also believed linked to the European heatwave. (Weather.com) Vast stretches of Earth’s northern latitudes are on fire right now. Hot weather has engulfed a huge portion of the Arctic, from Alaska to Greenland to Siberia. (Gizmodo, July 18)

    A staggering 217 billion tons (197 billion metric tons) of meltwater flowed off of Greenland’s ice sheet into the Atlantic Ocean this July. The worst day of melting was July 31, when 11 billion tons (10 billion metric tons) of melted ice poured into the ocean. (Live Science, Aug. 2)

    In April, a research team revealed that thousands of emperor penguin chicks drowned when the sea-ice on which they were being raised was destroyed in severe weather. The catastrophe occurred in 2016 in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea. (BBC News, April 25)

    Scientists believe that global sea levels could rise far more than predicted, due to accelerating melting in Greenland and Antarctica. The long-held view has been that the world’s seas would rise by a maximum of just under a meter by 2100. This new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, projects that the real level may be around double that figure. (BBC News, May 20)

    We may be seeing a feedback loop that could rapidly magnfy warming, as melting Arctic permafrost releases nitrous oxide, itself a potent greenhouse gas. (Harvard Gazette, June 6) Arctic permafrost is now melting at levels that previous models had not anticipated until 2090. (The Independent, June 14)

    Recent findings by the Mauna Loa Observatory place atmospheric carbon levels at over 415 ppm, unprecedented in human history. (Hawaii News Now, May 13)

    Human civilization as we know it may have already entered its last decades, a worrying new report examining the likely future of our planet’s habitability warns. The disastrous impacts of the climate crisis could overwhelm societies around the globe, the report’s authors contend. The paper, produced by the Melbourne-based Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, is presented by the former chief of the Australian Defence Forces and retired Royal Australian Navy Admiral Chris Barrie. (The Independent, June 4)

    Imminent human extinction has been broached.

    But at least it will be good for business. Amid the dramatic loss of sea ice, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland: “Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade. This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days… Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century Suez and Panama Canals,”

    While the US signed the Arctic Council declaration with caveats in 2017, this year it declined to do so. (BBC News, May 7)

  2. Disruption of Earth’s oceans and ice ‘unprecedented’

    From Live Science:

    Marine life overheats as it gasps for oxygen in warming oceans. Rising seas swallow islands and coastal areas. A growing number of storms generate historic flooding. Landslides and avalanches wreak havoc as stabilizing ice melts away.

    These are just a few of the impacts that scientists are already documenting across the planet after decades of human-driven climate disruption. And there’s far worse to come if climate-damaging activities continue unchecked, according to a report released today (Sept. 25) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body tasked with evaluating climate change (also referred to as global warming) documented by the latest research.

    Only swift and decisive governmental actions to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions due to fossil fuel burning on a global scale will reduce the harm of this runaway climate catastrophe, according to the report, which is a compilation of data from nearly 7,000 studies and represents the work of 104 researchers from 36 nations.

  3. East Siberian Sea boiling with methane

    Russian scientists on an Arctic expedition have discovered, for the first time, methane “boiling” on the surface of the water that is visible to the naked eye.  The research team from Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) found the methane leak east of Bennett Island in the East Siberian Sea. The methane bubbles, which create a boiling appearance, spanned an area over 50 feet. The concentration of atmospheric methane in that spot was 16 parts per million, more than nine times higher than the atmospheric average. (EcoWatch)

  4. US withdrawal from Paris Agreement formalized

    The US government notified the UN on Nov. 4 of its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. In the press statement, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said:

    The U.S. approach incorporates the reality of the global energy mix and uses all energy sources and technologies cleanly and efficiently, including fossils fuels, nuclear energy, and renewable energy. In international climate discussions, we will continue to offer a realistic and pragmatic model⁠—backed by a record of real world results⁠—showing innovation and open markets lead to greater prosperity, fewer emissions, and more secure sources of energy.

    The withdrawal will take effect one year from delivery of the notification. (Jurist)

  5. Arctic carbon emission feedback loop out of control

    From Global Citizen, Oct. 23:

    The Arctic is now releasing more carbon dioxide in the winter than it can absorb in the summer, according to a new report.

    Now that heat waves are occurring in the winter, and the Arctic is warming three times faster than the global average because of human activity, greenhouse gases that would have normally remained frozen in the ground are being released into the atmosphere, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    The study indicates that more than 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide are being released from Arctic soil annually because of warming temperatures — but plant growth in the region can only draw around 1.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the soil during warmer months.

    That means that an additional 600 million tons of CO2 are being released annually, which exceeds the CO2 levels of 189 countries.