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Another international group of scientists has issued another report warning that our planet is already warming at an alarming rate, triggering wildfires, droughts, heat waves, and other climate disasters. These disasters will become more widespread and more frequent.
The question now, as with every such report about climate change, is whether government officials will take action soon enough to avoid the predicted worst case scenarios.
As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear in their report, there is plenty of reason for alarm, but there are also slivers of optimism. The report, released on Monday, is the result of more than 200 scientists reviewing thousands of studies on changes in the Earth’s air, water and ground.
“We’ve known for decades that the world is warming, but this report tells us that recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid, and intensifying — unprecedented in thousands of years,” Ko Barrett, IPCC vice chair and senior adviser for climate at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said at a press conference Sunday announcing the report, the group’s sixth and first since 2013.
The group also made it clear that the rapid rise in temperatures are the result of human activity, especially burning fossil fuels and clearing vast swaths of land for agriculture and development.
As the report was released, fires in Greece prompted evacuations from the Island of Evia and wildfires continued to burn out of control in the western United States, which is predicted to be hit with another heatwave this week. Heatwaves that hit every 50 years now are occurring every 10 years, the report said.
The IPCC report “is a code red for humanity” and should “sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.”
The report presented simulations for five different scenarios based on global temperature changes. At minimum, the report warned, the globe will warm by 1.5 degree Celsius by the 2030s. That’s faster than previously predicted.
While the data is new — and more alarming — the message is the same: Countries around the world must quickly and substantially reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, especially from the burning of fossil fuels, particularly for transportation.
“It is still possible to forestall many of the most dire impacts,” Barrett, the IPCC vice chair, said.
Maine, under Gov. Janet Mills, has set emissions reduction targets and taken some aggressive action to increase renewable energy generation and consumption. This is important, but more federal action is needed.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration set a target of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. This is ambitious but doable if major sectors of the economy — namely transportation, electricity generation and manufacturing — move away from fossil fuels. Doing so can create new jobs in the renewable energy sector. Already, employment in the solar and wind power industries is projected to grow much faster than in the economy as a whole for the next decade.
On transportation, President Joe Biden announced last week that his administration would raise fuel economy standards to an average of 52 miles per gallon by 2026. This puts the U.S. back on track for significant increases in fuel efficiency (which also reduces greenhouse gas emissions) after Trump rolled back increases sought by the Obama administration. Biden also signed an executive order calling for half of new vehicles in America to be electric or hybrid by 2030. Several car makers have been moving toward similar goals.
Taking executive action rather than waiting for Congress, where efforts to combat climate change can be derailed by a minority of lawmakers, is a potentially faster way forward.
Many corporations, thankfully, aren’t waiting for government regulations and are already working to reduce their carbon emissions.
These are important small steps. Much larger requirements will be needed to make the changes called for by this most recent climate report.
The choice is now clear: a world that is increasingly uninhabitable in many areas — leading to mass migrations, war and suffering — or a world that is a bit hotter but remains largely livable because of changes we have all made to reduce our carbon footprint.