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New UN climate report emphasizes speed, intensity of warming and benefits of aggressive response

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New UN climate report emphasizes speed, intensity of warming and benefits of aggressive response
The planet was at least one degree cooler when our ancestors created these pictographs near the Colorado Green River about 700 to 2,000 years ago. (Photo by Brent Roraback)

While the world’s leading coalition of climate scientists says the planet is warming faster than ever with dire effects due to human causes, it also emphasizes that swift and aggressive actions to reduce emissions of heat-trapping pollutants could stabilize temperatures in a matter of decades.

Monday, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Sixth evaluation report on the causes, effects and impacts of global warming.

Some of the key messages:

  • Human emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases have warmed the planet 1.1 degrees Celsius since the late 1800s, and temperatures could potentially rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next 10 to 20 years.
  • Earth is the warmest it has been in more than 125,000 years. Carbon dioxide levels in 2019 were the highest levels in 2 million years.
  • Scientists are more confident than ever in linking changes, including rising sea levels, melting glaciers, extreme temperature events, extreme storm and rain events, droughts and fires to climate change.
  • If we can reduce our CO2 emissions to the point of pulling more carbon out of the atmosphere than we release, we could gradually reverse warming. But rising sea levels is another matter, it could take “several centuries to millennia for the global mean sea level to change course. ”

The report was created by 234 authors from 66 countries, including Kyle Armor, associate professor and climate scientist at the University of Washington, Richard Feely from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and Alan Mix from Oregon State University.

Armor said The Seattle Times that climate change was affecting all regions of the Earth.

“Climate change is widespread and intensifying and many of the changes are unprecedented in thousands of years,” Armor said.

The number that sticks with me is the potential to reach an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius in as little as a decade. With a rise of just over 1 degree over the past century, my home region of the Pacific Northwest has already been rocked by drought, nightmarish wildfires, and a surreal heat dome last June that previously set temperature records. unthinkable for an area known for its soggy, mossy shine.

What if we go up almost half again in such a short time?

The authors of the IPCC report project the possible degrees of warming possible depending on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Their models use different scenarios ranging from the most optimistic with the largest cuts (SSP1-1.9) to the smallest cuts (SSP5-8.5). (Graph from IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Summary for Policymakers)

The IPCC report focuses more on the importance of setting and meeting ambitious short-term carbon reduction targets. The governments of the world will meet this fall in Glasgow for the UN Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26) to set reduction targets for their nations.

In the Northwest, the tech giants have set their own climate agendas.

  • Microsoft continues to lead with its goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030. In January, the company announced that it had reduced its carbon emissions by 6%, from 11.6 million metric tons to 10.9 million metric tons. . It also paid for the removal of an additional 1.3 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Amazon is targeting carbon neutrality by 2040. Last year, the company revealed that its emissions actually increased from 2018 to 2019 by 15%. Amazon was responsible for 51.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, a volume roughly on par with Singapore’s footprint. The company continues to invest in renewable energy projects and it is the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the United States and Europe.
  • Amazon and Microsoft have endorsed some key climate laws for the state of Washington, and in May, the governor. Jay Inslee signed into law what many hailed as the most ambitious climate policy package in the nation.
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