It has seemed to me for a long time that the current international political situation is dominated by three irreconcilable facts:
First: we are confronted with immense challenges of a global scale that we seemed to be unprepared to meet, because our political structures (nation states, etc) are inadequate to the challenge.
Second: Without apparently acknowledging the unprecedented nature of the challenges, people everywhere are turning towards meretricious, poorly-informed leaders whose lack of understanding of the problems almost guarantees that they will worsen. This is illustrated by the election of the know-nothing Donald Trump as US president, by the election of the know-nothing Doug Ford as Premier of Ontario, the likely election of Jair Bolsonaro as next president of Brazil, and the move towards supporting leaders of far-right parties throughout Europe.
Third: even leaders who appear to understand the challenges appear to be sticking their heads in the sand, pretending that, while dealing with the problems by one set of policies, they continue also to follow policies that will inevitably worsen them. A prime example of this is Justin Trudeau, pretending to have policies to lessen climate warming, while at the same time pushing to extract even more of the world’s worst-emitting source of oil, the Alberta Tar Sands.
* * * *
Into this situation this week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has dropped its latest highly informed report warning that we don't have the several decades we have previously thought we had in order to deal with the problem of man-created climate warming, but, on the contrary, to quote from The Guardian’s report, “The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
“The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on Monday say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.
“The half-degree difference could also prevent corals from being completely eradicated and ease pressure on the Arctic, according to the 1.5C study, which was launched after approval at a final plenary of all 195 countries in Incheon in South Korea that saw delegates hugging one another, with some in tears.
“A key finding of the new IPCC report is the dramatic difference that restricting warming to 1.5C above pre industrial levels would have on the global environment.
“The scientists found:
• By 2100, global sea level rise would be 10cm lower with global warming of 1.5C compared with 2C.
• Extreme heatwaves will be experienced by 14% of the world's population at least once every five years at 1.5C. But that figure rises to more than a third of the planet if temperatures rise to 2C
• Arctic sea ice would remain during most summers if warming is kept to 1.5C. But at 2C, ice free summers are 10 times more likely, leading to greater habitat losses for polar bears, whales, seals and sea birds.
• If warming is kept to 1.5C, coral reefs will still decline by 70-90% but if temperatures rise to 2C virtually all of the world's reefs would be lost.
“It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now,” said Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the working group on impacts. “This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.”
“Policymakers commissioned the report at the Paris climate talks in 2016, but since then the gap between science and politics has widened. Donald Trump has promised to withdraw the US – the world’s biggest source of historical emissions – from the accord. The first round of Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday put Jair Bolsonaro into a strong position to carry out his threat to do the same and also open the Amazon rainforest to agribusiness.
“The world is currently 1C warmer than preindustrial levels. Following devastating hurricanes in the US, record droughts in Cape Town and forest fires in the Arctic, the IPCC makes clear that climate change is already happening, upgraded its risk warning from previous reports, and warned that every fraction of additional warming would worsen the impact.”
All the foregoing is from The Guardian’s report of the new IPCC assessment, which involved the expertise of hundreds of scientists from around the globe. For readers who wish to pursue this in more detail, The Guardian story is to be found at
The complete report can be found at http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr/
Which has asked that anyone quoting from it please provide the full reference:
IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp.