State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

A Hot, Fiery, Flooding Present and Future – the Latest Warning from the U.N. Climate Panel

IPCC warming planet models

This is an excerpt from an article by Andrew Revkin of the Columbia Climate School on his new Sustain What dispatch at Bulletin.com. Read the rest here.

You may have heard there’s a climate science report out.

It will generate a thousand stories and messages, in every language on the planet.

Most will center on interpretations and agendas because the findings are not new. This U.N.-chartered Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its sixth comprehensive assessment of global warming science since it was created in 1988, is charged only with reviewing published research.

The core conclusions are plenty stark enough and need no embellishment. Go to the I.P.C.C.’s list of headline statements for key takeaways but here are three distilled points:

  • From “fire weather” to hurricane strength, heat waves to deluges, melting ice to searing drought, much of what has been unfolding around the planet is already, to a growing extent, intensified by the climate-altering power of hundreds of billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other pollutants emitted so far as a consequence of humanity’s “great acceleration” of industrial development.
  • Because of the long life of CO₂ and heat already banked in the oceans and other factors, centuries lie ahead with rising temperatures, rising seas and a dangerous melange of extreme events, but the pace and the odds of deeply disruptive worst-case outcomes are still a function of humanity’s decisions, or continuing indecision, around stopping the growth of our heat-trapping carbon footprint in the atmosphere.
  • In theory, there’s still time to stop dangerous warming altogether, and to forestall the worst impacts on people and the world’s ecosystems if emissions can be brought down from today’s 40-billion-tons-plus a year (and rising) to a net of zero.

That last point remains key. Every step toward emissions reduction is a step toward a safer relationship with climate in the decades ahead, including holding at bay potential deeply destabilizing abrupt or compounded changes – the “monsters behind the door,” to use an apt old phrase from Princeton scientist Steve Pacala.

But that’s where this report, “Climate Change 2021 – The Physical Science Basis,” leaves off. Unfortunately, the antiquated architecture of the panel, established decades ago, means two crucial additional parts of this assessment – on warming impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation options and ways to mitigate warming – won’t be out until next February and March, and a final synthesis report comes in September 2022…

And that’s what’s most urgently needed.

Click back to two other periodic United Nations products – the latest reports on the glaring global “Emissions Gap” and “Adaptation Gap” – and you’ll see the deep hollowness behind many of the pledges by the nations that have spent the last century thriving on a fossil fueled energy diet. (Keep in mind there are no teeth in the 2015 Paris Agreement and the foundational 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change that it builds on.)

Read these posts for more on adaptation capacity and vulnerability reduction as prime imperatives with quick payoffs:

Here’s a deeper look at what this newest “physical-science basis” summary offers.

Like a photograph coming into focus, causes and consequences of climate change that were only hinted at a decade or two ago have sharpened markedly. The emerging clarity comes from a mix of steadily improving computer power and model sophistication and increases in the amount of evidence revealing past climate dynamics. See here how more time and analysis has only reinforced and a 1999 finding by the climate scientist Michael E. Mann and others showing the unique nature of Earth’s current hot spike:

IPCC climate graphs

Read a fresh commentary by Mann in Time Magazine on the new report and his old finding.

But the emerging clarity has come mostly, and sadly in a way, from all the additional observations of change in these wasted decades of indecision. The “large-scale geophysical experiment” that the scientist Roger Revelle described in the 1950s has had so much time to play out that more signals have emerged.

Read the rest here.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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Alex Cecil
Alex Cecil
2 years ago

All CO2 emissions are, as of right now, September 15th, 2021 are, immediately preventable, and have been for decades.

Back in the 70’s, 50 years ago, 50 years ago, all Apollo missions had to covert CO2 into O2. And so they did.

Submarines had to convert CO2 into O2. And so they did.

As a planet we need to covert CO2 into O2. And………we can’t.

Richard Worzel
Richard Worzel
7 months ago

I believe some scientists are saying that if we stop emitting CO2, then warming will stop. I am not a scientist, but was trained as a mathematician, and I disagree. Climate is a chaotic system, and such systems remain in equilibrium for long periods. Then, when they change, the changes occur quite rapidly. I believe we are in that kind of rapid transition now.

Even if we were to reduce carbon emissions to zero tomorrow (which is not going to happen), we have already “poked the bear” hard enough that it’s not going to go back to sleep. We’re in for real trouble.

And yet, although we cannot stop climate from changing – it’s too late for that – what we can do is stop making it worse. We will regret it mightily if we don’t, and not in some distant future, but today.

Already Property and Casualty insurance companies are backing away from issuing insurance to homeowners in particularly at-risk locations, such as California (wild fires) and Florida (blue sky flooding and hurricanes). They don’t care a fig about politics, only money. And they are betting that climate change will make things worse, and soon.

They’re right.