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CIAO Focus, November 2014: The U.N. Report on Climate Change

A recent United Nations report warns that climate change has already caused irreversible harm to the global environment and that the window of opportunity to stem further damage by taking decisive action to curtail carbon emissions is rapidly closing.  Over the past quarter century, climate change has negatively impacted natural and human systems on both land and sea.  Excessive heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires are a few of the consequences the world has witnessed in recent years owing to global warming. 

The report, which was published by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, argues that if left unchecked, extreme weather conditions will only worsen over time with rising sea levels and melting polar ice causing even more severe disruptions in the future.  To prevent this from happening, greenhouse gas emissions would need to be reduced by 40 to 70 percent by 2050 with a total elimination by 2200.  But even if this were accomplished, the existing negative effects of climate change would linger for centuries according to the report.  Hence the global community is faced with two choices: Do little or nothing and risk potentially cataclysmic changes to the earth’s atmosphere in the not so distant future; or work together to cut emissions to manageable levels that would allow humans and ecosystems to adapt.

There is now ample evidence to support the notion that the earth is heating up and scientists are overwhelmingly convinced that human activity is responsible for the change.  Between 1880 and 2012, for example, surface temperatures for both land and sea increased by 0.85 degrees C while sea levels rose 3.2mm a year between 1993 and 2010, twice as fast as the levels recorded between 1901 and 2010.   In the last 200 years the acidity levels of the world’s oceans have risen by 26 percent and arctic sea ice is melting by at least 4 percent each decade. 

A UN Climate Change Conference is scheduled for next year in Paris where a new international agreement is to be signed.  Carbon emissions in the United States are down by 10 percent over the last decade (owing largely to the cooling economy) and proponents of climate change reform are hoping that President Obama will use this statistic to set an example for the rest of the world. 

--Robert Sedgwick, Editor, CIAO


From the CIAO Database:

Why Maintaining Tropical Forests Is Essential and Urgent for a Stable Climate

The UN Climate Summit's Public–Private Action Announcements: Sorting the promising from the greenwash

A Sign of Things to Come? Examining four major climate-related disasters, 2010-2013, and their impacts on food security

Changing climates, moving people: Framing migration, displacement and planned relocation

Climate Change and EU Security Policy: An Unmet Challenge


Outside Sources: *

Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

UN and Climate Change

Effects of climate change ‘irreversible,’ U.N. panel warns in report (Washington Post)

Of warming and warnings (The Economist)

Global Warming, What You Need To Know, with Tom Brokaw (Discovery Channel video)

* Outside links are not maintained. For broken outside links, CIAO recommends the Way Back Machine.