Understanding the UN Climate Report

The latest findings from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are quite disturbing and massive to take in. It certainly has set off alarm bells amongst our editorial partners, and it hopefully should set off some alarms in you as well.

With extreme certainty, it has been said today, leading climate scientists from around the world believe we are influencing climate change and, frighteningly, some of its impacts are happening faster than originally expected.

image via Shutterstock

Now when I say leading climate scientists, I’m not just talking about a few eggheads at the local weather station. Rather, as the Natural Resources Defense Council pointed out:

More than 600 researchers from 32 countries reviewed more than 9,000 peer-reviewed studies for this report. They produced 2,000 pages of scientific analysis and worked through 56,000 comments.

It is, quite simply, as NRDC puts it, that the assessment presented is “sweeping, comprehensive, and inescapable.” There is no way around it folks – we are screwing up our planet, and not doing enough about it to correct the issues at hand. I, for one, like looking out my window and seeing blue skies. I don’t want one day to be doing this from a biosphere instead.

To further hit home the point of the importance of this report, here’s what the IPCC folk themselves had to say in a news release [PDF] tied to their massive data delivery. Consider what they say carefully, because it has long term implications for us as a species if we don’t move towards more sustainable economies both here in the United States and beyond:

It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models.

Warming in the climate system is unequivocal and since 1950 many changes have been observed throughout the climate system that are unprecedented over decades to millennia. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850, reports the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group I assessment report, Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis, approved on Friday by member governments of the IPCC in Stockholm, Sweden.

“Observations of changes in the climate system are based on multiple lines of independent evidence. Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” said Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.

Thomas Stocker, the other Co-Chair of Working Group I said: “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios,” said Co-Chair Thomas Stocker. “Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer. As Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions,” he added.

Projections of climate change are based on a new set of four scenarios of future greenhouse gas concentrations and aerosols, spanning a wide range of possible futures. The Working Group I report assessed global and regional-scale climate change for the early, mid-, and later 21st century.

“As the ocean warms, and glaciers and ice sheets reduce, global mean sea level will continue to rise, but at a faster rate than we have experienced over the past 40 years,” said Co-Chair Qin Dahe. The report finds with high confidence that ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010.

Co-Chair Thomas Stocker concluded: “As a result of our past, present and expected future emissions of CO2, we are committed to climate change, and effects will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 stop.”

Ocean warming, massive ice sheet melting, sea levels rising, significant increases in harmful chemicals in the atmosphere. Sounds like a bad science fiction movie, right? It also happens to be the planet we are living on right now. It is imperative we reverse these trends, as this is the only rock in space we have as a home.

* Nino Marchetti, EarthTechling