UN Report Says Apocalyptic Climate Change Could Happen as Early as 2040

An apocalyptic world plagued by raging wildfires, blistering heatwaves, punishing super storms, and catastrophic food shortages will be unleashed within our lifetimes. That’s according to a landmark UN climate report released today.

In order to avoid such a horrific fate, (which may strike as early as 2040), the world’s leading scientists warn that global warming must stay under the 1.5 degrees celsius target enshrined in the Paris climate change pact. They call for a dramatic transformation of the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

“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,” says 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.”

The report comes after 2017 was the hottest year on record, and follows a summer of extreme weather events across the globe from hurricanes in the US, to record droughts in South Africa to forest fires in the Arctic.

Climate change is no longer some distant existential threat, it is happening right here, right now. And, unless radical measures are taken in the immediate future, our children and their children will struggle to survive in this brave new world.

Given that the planet has already warmed by 1C since the dawn of the Industrial era, a further 1C rise would push millions of people into poverty as basic resources such as food and water slip out of reach:

“Limiting global warming to 1.5C, compared with 2C, could reduce the number of people both exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050,” says the report.

According to the UN, world temperatures are currently on track to warm by up to 4C before the turn of this century. This will usher in changes not seen since the last Ice Age, triggering a mass extinction event.

And, make matters worse, 4C is only the median forecast: the upper end of the curve goes as high as 8C. At 4C, the deadly 2003 European heat wave, which killed 2,000 people a day, will be just a normal summer. And, at 7C of warming, it would be impossible to go outside, especially in the tropics where humidity routinely tops 90 percent.

The report maps out several pathways out of this nightmare with carbon capture and reforestation being key, together with a radical shits to electric powered transport. Carbon emissions would have to be cut by 45% within the next 12 years, and reach zero by 2050:

“We have presented governments with pretty hard choices,” said Jim Skea, a co-chair of the working group on mitigation. “We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can.

Unfortunately, our odds of surviving this nightmare have considerably worsened since Donald Trump took over the White House last year. Determined to unravel his predecessor Barack Obama’s climate legacy, the Denier-in-Chief has made every effort to take the US back to the climate dark ages.

And, according to the latest statement from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it’s not because he doesn’t believe in climate change: it’s far more cynical than that. According to his administration, global warming does exist and it is so inevitable, there’s no point in doing anything about it.

Accordingly, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord last June. After 20 years of torturous UN talks, the Paris pact was hailed as a “historic” victory for mankind when it was signed by over 190 nations in 2015. After all, rich and poor countries alike were able to shrug off their many differences for the sake of posterity.

However, with the mere stroke of his pen, the former Apprentice Star managed to unwind a lot of this progress. After all, if the U.S., the world’s largest super power and biggest polluter historically is going to shirk its responsibilities, then why shouldn’t everyone else?

At current level of commitments, the world is on course for a disastrous 3C of warming. But, the report’s authors are steadfast that we can beat climate change:

“I hope this can change the world,” said Jiang Kejun of China’s semi-governmental Energy Research Institute, who is one of the authors. “Two years ago, even I didn’t believe 1.5C was possible but when I look at the options I have confidence it can be done. I want to use this report to do something big in China.”

Unlike the US which is straight jacketed by short term political cycles, the authoritarian Chinese government has the luxury of drawing up long term plans and is currently making one that goes as far as 2050.

Although global warming started over 150 years ago, more than half of that carbon dioxide has been released in the past 30 years: CO2 levels are now at their highest levels in four million years. That means that climate change has brought us to the brink of planetary collapse within the span of a single generation.

And, as the main stumbling block to solving this calamity is political will, voters have no choice but to use their power at the ballot box this Novemeber when they head to the polls for the US midterm elections.

According to historian Naomi Oreskes, the Republican Party has been “the greatest obstacle to American action on climate change” for the past two decades. “And, the only way to fix it, is to change the GOP, or to vote Republicans out of office.”

In the words of climate activist Bill McKibben: “It our duty to make sure that history will judge Donald Trump’s name with the contempt that it deserves. Not just because he didn’t take climate change seriously, but because he didn’t take civilisation seriously.”

This November, make your vote count.

Aiko Stevenson is a freelance writer from Hong Kong. She has a Masters from the University of Edinburgh, and has worked at the BBC, Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC Europe

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