President Ignores the Catastrophic Report, Focuses on His Victories
This week the UN’s scientific panel on climate change issued a report that stunned even veteran observers, as it paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought.
The biggest problem is that avoiding damage “would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.”
2040 is the critical year, as the scientists convened by the UN believe that, by then, we will see worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs – a period within many people’s expected lifetime.
Bill Hare, an author of previous I.P.C.C. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics, called the report “quite a shock, and quite concerning.” He said, “We were not aware of this just a few years ago.”
One of the problems that this report cites is that a warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2040 will cause, among other things, inundated coastlines, intensifying droughts and poverty.
While previous work believed that the damage would be a larger rise – 3.6 degrees, the new report shows that many of these impacts will come much sooner.
On Monday, President Trump greeted the new news by ignoring it. The New York Times reported, “Mr. Trump discussed his successful Supreme Court battle rather than how rising seawaters are already flooding Miami on sunny days.”
In his wake, states like California, New York and others, as well as other governments and companies, continue to push forward “with regulations and technological innovations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Times notes, “That bottom-up activism is a source of hope for those who have watched in despair since last year when Mr. Trump declared he would pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord. But experts say it is no substitute for the world’s largest economy, and second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, turning its back on the fight.”
“You have this enormous discrepancy between the White House and, essentially, everyone else,” said Johan Rockström, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “The leadership in Washington is really moving against the whole agenda.”
As we reported last week, the Trump administration, buried deep in an environmental impact statement, acknowledged: “In its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous seven degrees by the end of this century.”
Such a rise, scientists believe would be catastrophic, including “any coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.”
However, the administration has no dire warnings. They do not recommend that the world cut its greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead, the analysis they offer simply “assumes the plant’s fate is already sealed.”
“While the proposal would increase greenhouse gas emissions, the impact statement says, that policy would add just a very small drop to a very big, hot bucket,” the Post reports.
“The amazing thing they’re saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society. And then they’re saying they’re not going to do anything about it,” said Michael MacCracken, who served as a senior scientist at the U.S. Global Change Research Program from 1993 to 2002.
The UN has a different view. They note that to prevent even the 2.7 degrees of warming, “greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.”
They found that, by 2050, “use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from nearly 40 percent today to between 1 and 7 percent. Renewable energy such as wind and solar, which make up about 20 percent of the electricity mix today, would have to increase to as much as 67 percent.”
The Trump administration also made the renewal of coal as an energy source a priority.
“This report makes it clear: There is no way to mitigate climate change without getting rid of coal,” Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke University and an author of the report, told the NY Times.
The Times reports: “Despite the controversial policy implications, the United States delegation joined more than 180 countries on Saturday in accepting the report’s summary for policymakers, while walking a delicate diplomatic line.”
A State Department statement said that “acceptance of this report by the panel does not imply endorsement by the United States of the specific findings or underlying contents of the report.
“We reiterate that the United States intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement at the earliest opportunity absent the identification of terms that are better for the American people,” the statement said.
The report concludes that the world has already seen a 1.8 degree rise since the 1850s – more than halfway to the 2.7-degree mark.
The report emphasizes the potential role of a tax on carbon dioxide emissions.
“A price on carbon is central to prompt mitigation,” the report concludes.
The ramifications laid out in this report are staggering. For example, at 3.6 degrees of warming, the report predicts a “disproportionately rapid evacuation” of people from the tropics.
“In some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant,” Aromar Revi, director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements and an author of the report, told the NY Times. “You can set up a wall to try to contain 10,000 and 20,000 and one million people, but not 10 million.”
There is another alternative. If governments fail to avert 2.7 degrees of warming, the world could overshoot the target and then hope to through “a combination of lowering emissions and deploying carbon capture technology, bring the temperature back down below the 2.7-degree threshold.”
In that scenario, however, some damage would be irreversible – such as the death of all the coral reefs. But sea ice could return once the temperatures cool.
“For governments, the idea of overshooting the target but then coming back to it is attractive because then they don’t have to make such rapid changes,” Dr. Shindell said. “But it has a lot of disadvantages.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting