Environmental apocalypse may arrive sooner than we thought, says UN report

By Prarthana Mitra

A landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints the most conclusive and dire picture so far, of the immediate consequences of climate change. The only way to avert a major crisis by 2040, is a complete and immediate overhaul in the world economy, opined the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change.

Written by 91 scientists from 40 countries, the report is a first of many commissioned by world leaders under the Paris climate accord. It describes in excruciating detail how food shortage, poverty, droughts, coral reef bleaching, receding coastlines and wildfires will worsen if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.

The main finding of the study, however, debunks the threshold for catastrophic social and economic damage stemming from global warming, reducing it from a 3.6-degree increase to a 2.7-degree increase above pre-industrial levels. The report states that the overall reduction in emissions in the next decade needs to be more than 1 billion tons per year, larger than the current emissions. In the absence of aggressive action, many effects that were expected several decades in the future will arrive by 2040, and at the lower temperature.

The estimated damage would come at a cost of $54 trillion, the report claimed, also noting while it is technically possible to change the economy rapidly, it is politically unlikely. Heavy carbon taxation as high as $27,000 per ton is one such necessary and impossible measure that the report suggests. Greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45 percent by 2030, and completely by 2050. Burning fossil fuel needs to be phased out by 40% by 2050. Renewable energy, which makes up 20 percent of the electricity today, has to increase to 67 percent to meet the energy demands.

“It’s telling us we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime,” Oxford University climate scientist and an author of the report Myles Allen told The New York Times.

And yet, the US, which is the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, has not enacted the globally agreed upon carbon pricing programmes, mocked the science of climate change, and threatened to withdraw from the Paris agreement. Brazil also announced it would follow suit. In fact, Trump promised to increase coal consumption and lowered the carton tax from $50 to about $7 per ton. The Koch brothers, financial backers of the Republican Party, have even raised funds to combat politicians supporting the carbon tax, which is exactly how neoliberal economic greed figures prominently in the road toward ecological destruction.

However, they are not the only ones culpable.

Here’s the catch

The report concludes that we are more than halfway to the 2.7-degree mark, having crossed the 1.8 degrees mark since the 1850’s already. Human activities, especially burning coal since the industrial revolution, has taken a massive toll and that needs to stop immediately. According to the report, the greenhouse gas reduction pledges put forth under the Paris agreement are no longer enough to avoid 3.6 degrees of warming.

The United States along with Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam, which house 50 million people on the coast, will be flooded by 2040. This means, disproportionate displacement and evacuation of people away from the tropics, is on the cards, which spells further socio-economic problems.

“In some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant,” said Aromar Revi, director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements and an author of the report, told the press, adding, “You can set up a wall to try to contain 10,000 and 20,000 and one million people, but not 10 million.”

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

Climate ChangeEnvironmentGlobal WarmingGreenhouse Gases