National Geographic News
Cars travel across the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge in heavy smog in Nanjing city, east Chinas Jiangsu province, 30 January 2014.

Cars move through heavy smog as they cross China's Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge in Jiangsu Province.

PHOTOGRAPH BY WANG XIN, ASSOCIATED PRESS  

Dan Vergano

National Geographic

Published April 14, 2014

A trio of United Nations-sponsored climate reports released over the past seven months point to a dangerously warming planet, but big questions remain about whether the world's nations will take action and, ultimately, about whether the reports will matter. (See "Battle Plan for Climate Change.")

On Sunday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its third major climate assessment, rounding out a process that began in September and plays out every seven years.

The reports indicate that sharp greenhouse gas emissions cuts worldwide need to begin now, with a 40 percent to 70 percent reduction by mid-century, to avert the worst effects of climate change.

"We cannot play a waiting game where we bet on future technological miracles to emerge and save the day," said Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in a statement on the report.

The UNFCCC has hosted international summits aimed at fostering worldwide agreements on halting global warming since the 1990s, with the next big one scheduled for Paris in 2015.

The UN reports have been aimed largely at world leaders attending the summit, the most anticipated since a 2009 meeting in Denmark.

"Above all, governments must strengthen and expand bold policy incentives to reduce emissions at home and together construct a new climate change agreement in Paris next year," Figueres said.

There are doubts about whether governments will go that far, but the IPCC reports indicate that such action is needed. Among the reports' findings:

—Humanity's influence on a warming climate is "clear" and has accelerated since the 1950s largely due to burning oil, coal, and other fossil fuels that release atmosphere-warming greenhouse gases.

—Global warming is already harming agriculture, the environment, and human health in real ways worldwide.

—Greenhouse gas emissions rates have accelerated since 1970, with the steepest increase coming in the past decade. About 80 percent of those emissions are tied to fossil fuel use.

The worst effects of climate change include acidified oceans, higher sea levels, and crop losses. (See also: "New Climate Change Report Warns of Dire Consequences.")

Because the world has dithered over the past two decades, averting that increase looks difficult but still possible, the reports say. But the possibility rests on the prospect of a coordinated and more or less immediate turn toward low-emissions economies worldwide.

Danger Diplomacy

Written by thousands of science, policy, and economics experts, the IPCC reports represent a synthesis of existing climate research knowledge, focusing on the evidence of a warming climate ("virtually certain"), the global impacts, and the ways we might avert its most catastrophic effects.

A 1992 agreement commits nations worldwide to avert that level of warming, broadly seen as a 3.6-degree Fahrenheit (2-degree Celsius) increase in global average surface temperatures over preindustrial levels.

Everyone from town sewage supervisors deciding whether to buy bigger storm culverts to world leaders deciding whether to change their nation's energy streams relies on IPCC findings to some extent.

The IPCC reports help those leaders determine exactly how much risk of "dangerous" amounts of global warming they can tolerate.

"Defining 'dangerous' is not simple," says one IPCC report author, Charles Kolstad of Stanford University, who notes that different nations make different calculations about the costs and benefits of averting climate change.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, for example, likely sees things differently than Pacific island nations threatened by sea-level rise.

Determining how much climate danger can be risked, and what paths to take to avert it, will be on the table at Paris, along with a menu of possible responses.

"These are the most authoritative statements on climate science available," says emissions tracking expert Kelly Levin, of the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. "The IPCC does not recommend policies; they lay them out for officials. But the reports play a central role in policymaking."

Dollars and Sense

The Sunday report suggests that a worldwide switch to a low-emissions economy is less expensive than many suspect.

Without even taking into account the benefits—cleaner air and less pollution—the cost of switching to that kind of low-emissions world would take only about a 0.06 percent bite out of the yearly increase in global GDP over the next century. Last year, the $73.83 trillion global GDP was up about 3 percent over the previous year.

"It does not cost the world to save the planet," said one of the IPCC report's co-chairs, economist Ottmar Edenhofer of Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, speaking at a Sunday news conference. "The report outlines the challenges, but it provides hope—modest hope."

Local Power

The world has already ventured down the road of great expectations in the wake of UN climate reports. To much acclaim, the 2007 IPCC reports, along with Al Gore, won a Nobel Peace Prize.

They also served as the scientific crib sheets for world leaders at the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, which yielded promises of emissions cuts through 2020.

But the new IPCC report confirms those Copenhagen promises weren't enough to set worldwide greenhouse gas emissions on a path to avert dangerous global warming. Instead of emissions reductions, an accelerating pace of increases "really leaps out" of recent historical data analyzed in the report, says Harvard's Robert Stavins, a lead author.

That history alone adds to skepticism that world leaders at the Paris summit will pledge to make real cuts, notes political scientist Steven Cohen of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York City, much less a tripling of low-carbon-emissions power systems by 2050.

Others share the skepticism. In an April report, oil giant ExxonMobil called it "unlikely" that world leaders would, by 2040, put the kind of global price on carbon emissions that the IPCC report suggests.

For that reason, Stavins says, the Sunday report also analyzed the potential of "bottom up" climate agreements among cities, states, provinces, and regions to cut emissions. One example is the linkage between California's carbon emissions permits market and Canada's province Quebec.

If global climate treaties like the one envisioned for Paris fall flat once more, Stavins says, then arrangements among smaller locales—which most directly bear the brunt of climate disasters—may become "if not the de jure system, [then] the de facto one."

Follow Dan Vergano on Twitter.

127 comments
Stan Covington
Stan Covington

News flash everyone: Global warming is a hoax and a liberal moneymaking scheme. The Earth is going into a cooling not a heating. This is so stupid that people will believe that global warming is actually real. The polar bears are not living in a melting world. Global warming is propaganda to get you hyped up  and become an environmentalist. They just want money. Like Carbon credits.  Why would paying money for your "carbon footprint" help the situation. It just gives the creators money.   Global warming is a big fat down right dirty lie.  But the stupid thing is, is that people think we shouldn't ride cars anymore, and we put out too much pollution...and this and that boohooing, but we have technology and we are going to use it. Do you want to go back, forget technology and become primitive. I sure as heck think we are fine.   DO NOT BELIEVE GLOBAL WARMING IS TRUE. DO YOUR RESEARCH

Stan Covington
Stan Covington

So you are saying we should be like communist China and control how many children someone should have. That is the sickest thing I have ever heard. Now you think the solution is having a worldwide one child per family policy. Guess what, with less laborers, comes less people to work in the new age society. How is anyone going to monitor that world wide?   That is just wrong

Brian Levy
Brian Levy

Any solution to the problem of Climate Change should include population control. 

The aim should be a slowly reducing population worldwide.

This could be achieved by the 'one child per family' policy worldwide.

The best method of contraception is the I.U.D. - totally effective, involving no unpleasant operations, or drugs.

The business community would be against population control, because a surplus of labour gives them the upper hand. 

julie Keeney
julie Keeney

I don't know where some people get their news but I don't think denial of climate change can be reliably backed up with science anymore.  It is happening, it is changing.  I don't even care who or what caused it.  We need to figure out how we are going to survive through it.  So it seems simple to me.  If we follow the path of climate deniers, blow off all the scientific data and warnings and do nothing, or too little, and then we find our we were wrong, the consequences could be so costly, it could cost us our existence on this planet.  The planet will probably recover nicely, we just won't be here to see it.  Personally, that's too high of a price to even fool around with that scenario.  If on the other hand, we follow the path of the bleeding heart environmentalists, we clean up our act, stop letting the oil corps and climate deniers stand in our way of implementing change to our energy and resource usage, what's the worst that can happen?  Some already very rich people might become unhappy because their stock in Chevron doesn't produce the way they hoped?  We might all have to live with driving a gutless electric car?  We might have to suffer through the agony of knowing the pharmaceutical companies aren't selling enough asthma medication to float their stockholders lifestyles?  We might have to drink clean water?  My, that would be awful.  It's time for those that don't like change to shut up and sit down.  If you can't help, then at least don't hinder the rest of us by doing everything in your power to thwart the change that the rest of us want...no, need, to survive.  If you don't like the way things are going, you can always do the rest of us a favor and check out early. 

Roald Larsen
Roald Larsen

National Geographic is not science oriented?

Ajmal Mehdi
Ajmal Mehdi

The Environment

The People parties main concern for the future are environmental issues and health concerns that will arise. We should never forget that we are a part of nature. The 12 plates of rocks underneath our earth that rotate slowly take in and excrete energy. The first layer of the earth, humus, comes from the fossils fuels from trees, animals and cemeteries that have been around for thousands of years. The satellites in the atmosphere have gotten to be so much that they are just left in space affecting the ozone layer. The satellites, the large number of them, cover and block out the suns rays in some areas. In the 21st century, in our language we believe that without humus we would not be able to produce much food to serve humanity. The People Party members and myself sincerely believe that we need to upgrade our energy conception system for each household in the United States so we never lose power. The combustion engines need to be upgraded to save energy and environmental crisis. Road structures and the paving systems should be renovated utilizing magnetic technology that will help produce energy for tires for transportation. We have the knowledge to reduce the energy crisis if given the opportunity to upgrade our lifestyle.

Sincerely,

Sincerely,

Ajmal Mehdi

Responsible Citizen of the State and this Country

507 Pine Street Bristol Connecticut

The People Party

m s
m s

It always amazes me that people think this is a hoax when you can plainly see the changes to the planet. Sometimes subtle sometimes dramatic.  My home town used to never have seasons, it was hot year round and the place was always humid. It's been 30 years and now the place has full seasonal changes, it has 3 noteable seasons and it actually has winds where the air used to stand still, the number of tornado warnings and hurricane warnings has doubled since I used to live there and they actually had snow something unheard of down there. 


The same can be said for multiple locations. Even the freakishly long cold weather this year cannot be explained away by these non-believers. It's ridiculous. When I was in school we were all taught that any change to the environment can be catastrophic to the ecosystem there. This wasn't hippie propaganda this was science.


So to hear these people say "awww don't worry about it it's just natures way, man isn't responsible" is just stupid frankly. It's like they've completely forgotten the sheer amount of pollution that we as a race have been dumping into the air water and land for years now since the industrial revolution. 

Chris Crawford
Chris Crawford

Mr. Mick Russom has posted the same comment seven times here: that CO2 concentrations were 1950 ppm during Jurassic times, that temperatures were 3ºC higher than they are today, and that it was because the dinosaurs were driving cars. I have already replied to him below, but since he seems to want this point so many times, I think that I might be able to catch his attention by posting a response here.


Yes, CO2 concentrations were much higher during Jurassic times, and yes, temperatures were much higher during those times. This was due to a variety of natural phenomenon. The rather muddled insinuation that Mr. Russom makes is that this is all an entirely natural phenomenon, and that the current warming cannot be attributed to human emissions of CO2. This is absurd logic: the fact that A can cause C does not mean that B cannot also cause C. Forest fires have been started by lightning for millions of years, but that doesn't mean that campers should not bother to douse their campfires. Animals have been going extinct from the beginning of life, but that doesn't mean that the dodo or the passenger pigeon are extinct for entirely natural reasons. People have been dying of natural causes, but that doesn't mean that a body with a knife sticking out of its back died of cancer.


One other thing: if Mr. Russom thinks that a return to Jurassic conditions would be nice, he should provide us with an explanation of what he proposes to do about sea levels being 200 feet higher. That would pretty much inundate every coastal city on the planet. During Jurassic times, there was a big sea running through the middle of North America. Does Mr. Russom think that this would be nice?

Brad Fregger
Brad Fregger

The question is, "How can so many intelligent people be so gullible?" This is not a pressing issue, it is a media and government issue backup by a bunch of scientists whose funding and reputation are tied to the AGW hypothesis. The unintended consequences of implementing these policies is much worse than the potential problems associated with the AGW hypothesis. Watch carefully as more and more scientists distance themselves from this boondoggle, they don't want to be associated with bad science or, even worse, fraud.

In fact, for those worried about air pollution, it is the focus on CO2 that is delaying any advancement in controlling the air pollution that some are experiencing. In other words, your focus on AGW is negatively impacting the efforts needed to combat the pollution that you are most worried about.

The earth itself is not in danger. Mother Nature is infinitely better at shaking things up than humanity will be for the next few centuries. But, human life is at risk in places around the world. Wise up and get off this AGW hypothesis kick (a very weak hypothesis) and focus your attention where it is needed.

Md Ashaduzzaman
Md Ashaduzzaman

International law and strong commitment are much needed to avert the global warming than the using of technology.

LEE HAI
LEE HAI

AH, POLLUTION THAT BRINGS TEARS TO ONES EYES, GREED AND DENIAL

FROM HEADS STUCK WHERE THE SUN DON'T SHINE, INTELLIGENT LIFE

ON EARTH SEEMS TO BE  RARE COMMODITY....EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED,

THE TIDE BEGINS TO TURN WHEN COMPASSION AND UNDERSTANDING

TURNS ME, ME, ME INTO THE REVERENCE AND CELEBRATION OF LIFE

LIVED AS WE...

N M.
N M.

It seems to me that alarmism will lead to the destruction our way of life, an end to cheap energy, energy on demand, 24 hours of energy, hot showers on demand, individual mobility, upward economic mobility.......

What would make "green" energy more appealing is if private investors were using their money for r&d instead of the current trend that uses taxpayer dollars. It's one thing to squander you own money but quite another when politicians use resources to pay off political favors by sending tax dollars down the drain with green energy experiments

y. huo
y. huo

the air is bad,can't to beijing

Bunny Music
Bunny Music

My son has a 1992 pick up truck and it has no emission controls because of its age. But he doesn't have the money to fix it because it is over $500. So how is this going to help the planet? Some of us need help getting things up to par.

Stan Covington
Stan Covington

@Brian Levy Read my comment above.   This idea is stupid.   I guess we will become China everyone because some people think we need to control the population.   Good luck with that.

Robert   Lee jr.
Robert Lee jr.

@Brian Levy Suffice to say you are absolutely correct, Brian...and how sad that nothing WILL CHANGE because people will not change...All the talk in the world will not-even for a moment-slow down the need to procreate/above all else-for mankind! It saddens me to watch this beautiful planet being delivered from Eden to hedonistic hell. But, it is what it is. I can only hope and PRAY that those doing the most damage will also be living in the areas to suffer most greatly...of course that won't ever happen...but nice thought, any way...

Roald Larsen
Roald Larsen

@Chris Crawford, the consept of science and data seem to be lost for the alarmists. Fact is, real world data doesn't support man made global warming at all. In fact it has been coolong for almost 2 decades, ref. HadCrut 3 and RSS. How do you explane that? Antarctica is breaking records of sea ice extent for 90 days straight. Arctic sea ice extent is the same as 40 years ago, how do you explane that? 

mick russom
mick russom

@Chris Crawford Lies. You cant stick to the simple issue. Without humans the climate has been where the earth is frozen entirely and also all liquid water. Your inability to get this is astonishing. Mr. Crawford, trying to make video games under the theme of AGW to MAKE MONEY. Cap and trader. 

Chet Esium
Chet Esium

@Brad Fregger Nice job of echoing talking points without providing any evidence at all that these made up opinions have anything to do with reality.  Really shows how much you think.

Darya Filippova
Darya Filippova

@Brad Fregger  I think it is a false assumption that Mother Nature can "shake things up" no matter what humans do. There are things that are too big even for Mother Nature to fix on its own. Nuclear disasters are one, massive changes in the gases that comprise the atmosphere are another.

Chris Crawford
Chris Crawford

@Brad Fregger  Mr. Fregger, your argument is based on a conspiracy theory: that all the scientists in the world are pledged to an insidious conspiracy to defraud humanity. Do you realize just how absurd that notion is? If you really want to play conspiracy theory games, then how do we know that YOU aren't part of a conspiracy? After all, there's a LOT more money behind the fossil fuel companies; it would make a lot more sense that they're behind any dark conspiracy. In this theory, you are in the pay of evil fossil fuel companies, bent on protecting trillions of dollars of future profits.


My conspiracy theory makes a lot more sense than your conspiracy theory. Of course, *I* don't believe in conspiracy theories.

Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson

@mick russom  I don't know about you, but I prefer the climate in which humans evolved and adapted.


The term DGW tells me you really don't want to know how Earth's climate works. Would you be happy if we stopped all climate study?

Chris Crawford
Chris Crawford

@mick russom  Sure, we could return to Jurassic conditions, with sea levels 200 feet higher than today and a vast sea running through North America. No problem!

Darya Filippova
Darya Filippova

@Stephen Moline  The article makes a special note of the fact that making a "green" effort would cost society very little. I think this implies that we would still have hot showers and 24 hour energy. I do not think they mean to take away our way of life or take away our ability to make choices, but rather to be conscious, each and one of us, of how individuals consume energy and how that reflects on the air you and I breathe.

Michael Gross
Michael Gross

@Stephen Moline  That's not alarmist at all. The U.S. government spends between $30-45 billion a year on clean technologies accounting for 0.3 percent of GDP. .3% of the average household income in the U.S. is equivalent to an annual Netflix membership. The U.S. is spending about as much on clean energy as an individual spends on Netflix per year. 

Chris Crawford
Chris Crawford

@Stephen Moline  What "alarmism" are you talking about? Scientifically established truths? The scientists of the world have worked this out very carefully; the fanatical and false arguments are coming from the deniers. It would appear that climate change is more likely to change our way of life than any of policy options being discussed. 


But perhaps you are only getting ahead of the issues. Yes, we should discuss the policy options. But let's skip this nonsense from those who deny science.


Most of the money for various alternative forms of energy is in fact coming from private investors. The government is spending much less money trying to stimulate growth, but the great bulk of the investment is private.

Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson

@Bunny Music  Back when I was young and didn't have $500 for car repairs, I rode a bicycle or took the bus.

julie Keeney
julie Keeney

@Roald Larsen @Chris Crawford It is not the same.  The new ice is not as strong, not as frozen, not as permanent as the ice that's been melting.  The Atlantic has been sucking up a lot of heat, but just like when you boil water, the water heats, and heats, but it doesn't boil.  Not until all the water gets heated up to the boiling point temperature will it boil.  So by the time it boils, all that water is to boiling point or above.  When the Atlantic stops sucking up the heat, the heating on land and air will start to increase again, and this time we won't have any room left for the Atlantic to absorb it, and it will start to really pick up speed.  And by then it is simply too late to do anything about.  What do you have against making an effort?  What is so great about burning fossil fuels like they are going out of style?  Oil used to actually bubble up from the ground where I live.  Now we expend huge amounts of resources and energy trying to extract it from places that are not only ridiculously difficult to access, but are often in sensitive environments.  Not to mention, it will eventually run out.  Why wait until that point to change?  Wouldn't it be great to not have to worry about energy anymore because we went ahead and tackled the problem before it was a critical emergency?  Shouldn't we save what fossil fuels we have left for the things that we simply can't do with electrical energy??  Or should we just plow ahead and run into that wall at full speed ahead?  Our children deserve better than that from us.  


mick russom
mick russom

@Chris Crawford @mick russom  That would take millions of years you dried up back woods alarmist. Now go bang out your emotions in your drum circle your chain yourself to a tree. You dont even have kids, your perceptions are warped. 

Chris Crawford
Chris Crawford

@Timothy Chase  Yes, sea level rise is a greatly underestimated threat. We have about a hundred miles of Florida coastline extending northward of Miami that is only about a meter above sea level; the infrastructure there is worth trillions of dollars and there's a very real possibility of being forced to abandon that entire region this century. While I don't buy Mr. Hansen's suggestion of a 5 meter rise, I think that a 1-meter rise is surely within the realm of likelihood.

Timothy Chase
Timothy Chase

@mick russom @Chris Crawford  James Hansen has suggested that something on the order of 5 meters of sea level rise might be possible by the end of this century, given an apparent doubling time on the order of 5 to 10 years for the loss of ice mass on Greenland and possibly West Antarctica.  IPCC had put it under a meter, possibly less than half a meter, depending in part upon the emissions scenario.  More recently a reasonable upper limit placed it at about 1.5 meters.  But for the most part people have been leaving out the behavior of the ice sheets, largely because we simply don't know how to realistically model their behavior.  So we simply leave them out of the calculations, having an asterisk that refers you to a caveat that says, in essence, that this is what we are able to model, but things could be a whole lot worse.

And nature has the tendency to surprise us.  Greenland had been losing more ice mass than West Antarctica, but according to a new paper just six glaciers are responsible for draining roughly as much ice into the Amundsen Sea than all of Greenland into the Arctic Ocean. From the introduction:

"Pine Island, Thwaites, Haynes, Smith, Pope, and Kohler Glaciers are among the fastest-flowing glaciers in continental Antarctica [Rignot et al., 2011b]. Combined together, they drain one third of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet into the Amundsen Sea Embayment (ASE), or 393 million square kilometers. Their mass flux into the southern Pacific Ocean (280±9 Gt/yr in 2007) [Rignot, 2008] is comparable to that of the entire Greenland Ice Sheet into the Arctic Ocean [Rignot and Kanagaratnam, 2006]."

Mouginot, J., E. Rignot, and B. Scheuchl. "Sustained increase in ice discharge from the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica, from 1973 to 2013." Geophysical Research Letters (2014).

And yet at this point there are no glaciers along the coastline of Greenland that aren’t going to sea, either. Models had suggested that the Northeast region would be stable, but instead ice is moving as far inland as 600 KM.

Please see:

"Here, we show that the northeast Greenland ice stream, which extends more than 600 km into the interior of the ice sheet, is now undergoing sustained dynamic thinning, linked to regional warming, after more than a quarter of a century of stability. This sector of the Greenland ice sheet is of particular interest, because the drainage basin area covers 16% of the ice sheet (twice that of Jakobshavn Isbræ) and numerical model predictions suggest no significant mass loss for this sector, leading to an under-estimation of future global sea-level rise."

Khan, Shfaqat A., et al. "Sustained mass loss of the northeast Greenland ice sheet triggered by regional warming." Nature Climate Change (2014).

In any case, for every meter that sea level rises you can expect to displace roughly 1% of the earth's population.  And this where the prime real estate is, too.  The big cities are along the coastlines because of commerce.

Chris Crawford
Chris Crawford

@mick russom @Chris Crawford  So you think that it would take millions of years for the sea level to rise by 200 feet? The current rate of sea level rise is about 3 mm per year -- and it's accelerating. At 3 mm per year, sea level will reach 200 feet higher in 18,000 years, not millions. Of course, it doesn't need to get much higher in order to do enormous damage.

Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson

@mick russom @Chris Crawford  Millions of years? Really? At the current (and accelerating) rate of CO2 emissions, how long would it really take? Do the math.

Chris Crawford
Chris Crawford

@mick russom @Chris Crawford @Stephen Moline  Global temperatures back then were not caused by unnatural emissions of CO2. Are you suggesting that natural causes obviated human causes? Does the fact that many forest fires are natural mean that ALL forest fires are natural? Does the fact that many deaths are natural mean that murder is impossible?

Roald Larsen
Roald Larsen

@Timothy Chase That was a lot of propaganda. You should have included the chinese papers for effect, that show an sea level rise of 14 cm./year. Real world data however (not PAL-reviewed propaganda papers) shows no sea level rise at all. That means no extra ice is melting. That means you are mistaking.

julie Keeney
julie Keeney

@Roald Larsen @Timothy Chase Have you told that to the people on the islands that are quickly, not slowly, quickly being inundated?  You can see it's rising in places on the east coast of US right now.  You can see how much it has receded on any number of documentaries.  How can you say that?  


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