New UN Report: Climate Change Inaction Must End
More than 800 experts from 195 countries have collaborated on the UN's lengthy new report on climate change. Despite points of scientific contention, the study uncovers worrying developments. Instead of arguing over the details, it's time the international community finally takes action.
With its 2,000 pages, the United Nations' fifth assessment report on global warming is a mammoth document -- and the result of unimaginable hard work. For the final draft alone, some 800 experts and 26 governments contributed exactly 31,422 comments. (The central findings can be found here.)
Nevertheless, many questions persist, among them the circumstances surrounding extreme weather events and what's known as climate sensitivity. That pertains to the question of how much the earth's average temperature actually rises when the concentration of carbon emissions in the atmosphere doubles. The new report comes to the conclusion that global warming is not happening as quickly as previously thought -- something that's currently the subject of much discussion. Those who previously doubted the occurrence of climate change will use it as evidence of a tempting supposition: It's not so bad after all.
No Problem of Recognition
But as important as these debates ultimately are, they may also blind us to the essential message: Despite all the remaining scientific uncertainties, there is no great problem of recognition. Climate change is clearly happening. The question is how we respond to it. Every year humanity emits more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And in spite of a temporary pause, these gases are warming our planet in the long term -- from the outer atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. They are melting the glaciers, raising the sea levels, acidifying the oceans.
At the same time, international efforts for a climate agreement are not making progress. One tedious and unsuccessful climate summit follows the last. The next act of the drama will take place in November in Warsaw's National Stadium. But the problem of climate change will not disappear just because one or the other thinks he has now heard or talked enough about it. Quite the contrary.
The international climate summit needs movement by the Americans, the Chinese and the Europeans. An important step in this direction could be a trading system for carbon emission pollution rights that would include China. And the IPCC urgently needs reform, which would reduce political influence and enable more open communication.
Perhaps future reports could even exist as a sort of online wiki. This would ensure that the newest studies would be reflected in the report. It would finally make the debate transparent -- and it would grant the public access to research as it happens, not just every six or seven years.
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