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The IPCC Special Report on climate change: A dissection

The recent Special Report by the IPCC was widely described as giving a stark warning about risks faced by humanity if climate change is not dealt with urgently. What exactly does this imply, and how reliable is this document? We present analyses by Michael Mann, Richard Heinberg, Ratheesh Pisharody, Adam Markham, Kevin Anderson and Padmini Gopal.

The New IPCC Report Offers Climate Solutions That Depend on Magic
Richard Heinberg, Pacific Standard Magazine

The purpose of the report is to explore the differences between a 2 degrees Celsius maximum target for global warming and a 1.5 degree target, and to identify ways to achieve that lower target. The reason for working to limit warming below the more ambitious threshold is that a number of low-lying nations (on whose approval the Paris Agreement depended) will literally be underwater if temperatures rise beyond that limit. As solutions, the report discusses ways to capture and sequester carbon dioxide, or ways of pulling CO2 out of the air. The report also suggests that we can continue to grow gross domestic product (GDP) while decreasing energy use. I call these solutions “magic” because they are unlikely to accomplish much in the real world except to distract our attention from the necessary work of cutting emissions. Each has been shown to be a pipe dream at scale, even if—as in the cases of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), biomass-to-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), direct air capture of CO2 (DAC), and air-to-fuel conversion technologies—pilot projects have succeeded in demonstrating that the technology works. Here’s why that’s unrealistic.

Climate change and being chased by a tiger
Ratheesh Pisharody
Capitalism, globalization and the free-market, which caters to the selfish individual and sustains competition would not have been possible without the dawn of the industrial era; without the robbery of world’s resources and its conversion into products that feed consumerism and eventually produce waste. Anyone who knows a thing or two about climate change will agree that this “problem of climate change” shares its birthday with the advent of such economic systems. We cannot accept the SR15 as a realistic actionable document unless it proposes changes to how the world runs today. If the top businesses and the richest individuals continue to hold the same power in world politics, how are we to believe that the supposed policy makers and politicians won’t have their arms twisted? When we ask for a “borderless world” the rat-from-the-rat-race looks at us with the “what are you talking about” look; the bureaucrat/apologist gives us explanations on administration or governance; the nationalist/fundamentalist chides us for not being patriotic or sectarian enough. At the same time, for the rich and powerful businessman — the ones who keep the economic system and hence the climate change alive — the world was/is “always borderless”; if only for the sake of exploitation.

Half a Degree of Warming Could be the Difference Between Survival and Extinction for Many Species
Adam Markham, Union of Concerned Scientists
Globally, the damage to ecosystems would be markedly more severe at 2°C in contrast to 1.5°C. Almost twice as much of the globe’s land area is projected to experience changes in biomes (major habitat types: e.g. tundra, tropical forest or desert) at 2°C (13%) than at 1.5°C (7%). For example, tropical rainforest in Central America would be reduced by 20% at 1.5°C, 30% at 2°C, and loss would rise to a staggering 50% at 3°C – most likely being replaced by savanna and grassland. New and novel biomes will likely form as the species assemblages in current biomes breakup due to climate change, and species shift at different rates, or become extinct in response to climate change. The IPCC highlights regional high risk of warming above 1.5°C to “tropical and desert ecosystems in Asia, Australian rainforests, the fynbos and succulent karoo areas of South Africa, and wetlands in Ethiopia, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe”.

Climate Scientist: As U.N. Warns of Global Catastrophe, We Need a “Marshall Plan” for Climate Change
Democracy Now
Kevin Anderson is Zennström professor in climate change leadership at the Centre for Environment and Development Studies at Uppsala University and chair of energy and climate change at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester in Britain. He says that the IPCC report fails to hold the world’s highest emitters accountable, and argues a “Marshall Plan” for climate change is necessary to save the planet from destruction. “About 70 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide come from about 20 percent of the world population. … When we try to address climate change and reduce our emissions by focusing on all 7.5 billion people, I think it misunderstands where the actual responsibility of emissions resides,” Anderson says. “We’re not developing policies that need to be tailored to that particular 20 percent.”

IPCC Special Report: Climate risks require India to rethink its approach
Padmini Gopal, Down to Earth
India is already losing about 1.5 per cent of its GDP every year due to climate change-related risks. Agriculture sector has witnessed 4-9 per cent dip in yield) every year as a result of the current 1°C rise in global temperature. Allowing temperature to rise beyond 1.5°C would render India uninhabitable and even poorer. The Special Report states that pursuing current level of targets as set out by the countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement would effectively have us on track to a 3°C warmer world. India has to fundamentally transform its current approach to climate change and not wait on developed countries like the United States to take the lead on scaling emission reductions and addressing historical emissions. Complacency and looking up to other countries’ unambitious climate targets as benchmarks would essentially mean suicide for a vulnerable country like India.


The IPCC systematically underestimates climate risks: here’s the proof
Donald Brown
A Special Report on Global Warming has been released today by the IPCC, considered the international benchmark on climate change. Ahead of it, Donald Brown reviewed three independent studies which show that climate change is a much more urgent and serious threat than indicated by past IPCC reports, and examines the ethical questions they raise.

‘Tail Risk’: What the scientists are not telling you about climate change
Kerry Emanuel
There are strong cultural biases against discussion of ‘tail risk’ in climate science; particularly the accusation of “alarmism”. Does the dictum to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” not apply to climate scientists? If we omit discussion of tail risk, are we really telling the whole truth?

Red alert: Runaway climate change begins as glacier melt passes point of no return
Mihir Mathur
This latest news immediately brings some questions to mind: Does this mean that we should stop working toward mitigating climate change? Should we stop worrying and enjoy mindlessly by indulging ourselves in senseless consumerism? I really don’t know. But what I definitely know is that the window of opportunity to act is closing really fast.

Why we can no longer shrink from the most urgent conversation on the planet
Richard Heinberg
Many problems are converging at once because society is a complex system, and the challenges we have been discussing are aspects of a systemic crisis. A useful way to frame an integrated understanding of the 21st century survival challenge is this: we humans have overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for our species.


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