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The final edition of the United Nations’ assessment on climate change concludes that the growing poisoning of Earth’s atmosphere is due primarily to human activity, and to undo the damage may require that mankind end greenhouse gas emissions altogether by the end of this century.
The report, the fourth volume of the study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), combined the work of the previous three volumes and so offered no new evidence of the source or the effects of climate change. But it highlighted the depth and breadth of the challenge to reverse its effects, where possible.
Its chief recommendation was the eventual end to mankind’s burning of fossil fuels to generate energy, shifting to clean alternatives to power the factories, offices, homes and vehicles and the development of new devices capable of ridding the atmosphere of existing poisons.
Unless action is taken now, the IPCC report warned, the Earth and its people could be subject to “irreversible” consequences, some of which already are evident, including hotter temperatures, more violent storm seasons, melting ice caps, the resulting rises in sea levels and more acidic ocean water.
The report was issued Nov. 2 in Copenhagen, just a month before the UN convenes its Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima, Peru, on Dec. 1-12, where delegates from around the world will try to agree on a plan to limit emissions.
“Science has spoken,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a news conference in the Danish capital upon the report’s release, and he said the document should act as a spur to the delegates in Lima to take strong action. “There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”
There’s no evidence, though, that all the delegates in Lima would agree to firm limits on their countries, particularly those from emerging economies such as India, who argue that established industrialized states, already responsible for most of the existing pollution, should not dictate limits to them.
World governments have agreed that the warming of the atmosphere must be kept at no more than 3.6 degrees Fahranheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the level before the Industrial Revolution that began in the late 18th century. Therefore, it concluded, humankind must limit fossil-fuel emissions to about 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide in this century.
That limit, however, will probably be reached in about three decades, the report said, and energy companies are budgeting the burning of oil and coal products that would be far greater than the proposed limit. Further, it says, these companies are spending about $600 billion annually to find more fossil fuels.
On Oct. 27, IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri gave a speech in Copenhagen in which he conceded that reducing emissions so sharply would be difficult, but he urged the Earth’s governments to make the effort anyway.
“May I humbly suggest that policymakers avoid being overcome by the seeming hopelessness of addressing climate change?” Pachauri said. “It is not hopeless. This is not to say it will be easy.”
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com