UN report confronts nations with tough choices on climate

This photo taken on September 28, 2018 in Annecy shows the very low level of Lake Annecy following the heat of the summer. (AFP) /
Updated 30 September 2018
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UN report confronts nations with tough choices on climate

  • The treaty in 2015 enjoined the world to block the rise in Earth’s surface temperature at “well below” 2C

PARIS: The world’s nations will gather at a UN conference in South Korea on Monday to review and approve a 20-page bombshell — distilled from more than 6,000 scientific studies — laying out narrowing options for staving off climate catastrophe.
When the 195 countries who signed off on the Paris Agreement in 2015 requested a report from UN-led scientists on the feasibility of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, the gesture seemed to many unnecessary.
The treaty, after all, enjoined the world to block the rise in Earth’s surface temperature at “well below” 2C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels, adding a safety buffer to the two-degree threshold long seen as the guardrail for a climate-safe world.
Since then, however, a crescendo of deadly heat waves, floods, wildfires and superstorms engorged by rising seas — with less than 1C warming so far — has convinced scientists that the danger cursor needed to be reset.
“There is increasing and very robust evidence of truly severe and catastrophic risks even at the lower bounds of these temperature targets,” said Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based research and advocacy group.
The promise of “pursuing efforts” to limit warming to 1.5C — added to the Paris treaty at the last minute, in part to assuage poor nations who felt short-changed on other fronts — caught scientists off-guard.
“There wasn’t very much literature on 1.5C warming three years ago,” said Jim Skea, a professor of at Imperial College London’s Center for Environmental Policy, and a co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), the UN science body charged with writing the “Special Report” on 1.5C.
Of hundreds of climate models in 2015 projecting a low-carbon future, only two or three aimed for a 1.5C global warming cap.
The 20-page Summary Policy Makers — which will be collectively scrutinized, line-by-line, by hundreds of diplomats through Friday — contains several benchmark findings, according to a draft obtained by AFP.
At current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, for example, the Earth’s surface will heat up beyond the 1.5C threshold by 2040, the report concludes with “high confidence.”
To have a fighting chance of staying under the 1.5C cap, the global economy must, by 2050, become “carbon neutral,” meaning no additional CO2 can be allowed to leach into the atmosphere.
In addition, the report suggests that carbon dioxide emissions from human activity will need to peak in 2020 and curve sharply downward from there.
So far, we are still moving in the wrong direction: after remaining stable for three years — raising hopes the peak had come — emissions rose in 2017 to historic levels.
For many scientists, these targets are technically feasible but politically or socially unrealistic, along with the broader 1.5C goal.
“The feasibility is probably going to remain an open question, even after the report comes out,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University.
A main focus of the underlying, 400-page report — written by a team of 86 authors, supported by another 150 scientists — is the difference a half-degree Celsius can make in terms of impacts.
“When we’re talking about 1.5C it’s not just to protect a few dozen small island nations,” said Henri Waisman, a senior researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, and a coordinating author of the report.
“It’s to avoid dramatic impacts that become exponentially more dramatic when we go from 1.5C to 2C.”
What used to be once-a-century heatwaves in southern and central Europe, for example, are projected to occur four out of 10 summers in a 1.5C world, and six out of ten in a 2C world.
Many tropical fisheries are likely to collapse somewhere between the 1.5C and 2C benchmark, as fish seek cooler waters; staple food crops will decline in yield and nutrition an extra 10 to 15 percent; coral reefs that may have a chance of surviving if air temperatures remain below 1.5C will very likely perish with an additional half-degree of warming.
Most worrying of all, perhaps, are temperature “tipping points” that could push methane-laden permafrost and the ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica — which hold enough frozen water to lift global oceans by a dozen meters (nearly 40 feet) — beyond the point of no return.
Some experts, however, worry that focusing on the contrast between a 1.5C and 2C world obscures the fact we are currently on a trajectory that will crash through both these thresholds.
“I don’t think 2C is safe, and I would never want to argue it,” said Frumhoff. “By many measures, 1.5C is not enough.”
“But while we might call 2C an upper bound, let’s not pretend that we’re on a 2C path — we are way above that,” he told AFP.
Even taking into account voluntary national pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions, submitted in an annex to the Paris treaty, the Earth is on track to heat up by an unliveable 3.5C or more by century’s end.
“If we want to save ourselves from the disasters that are looming, we only have unrealistic options left,” said Kaisa Kosonen, Greenpeace IPPC campaign lead.
“We have to try to make the impossible possible.”


US carrier in Hong Kong after B-52 bombers fly over South China Sea

Updated 30 min 48 sec ago
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US carrier in Hong Kong after B-52 bombers fly over South China Sea

  • The arrival of the USS Ronald Reagan and its battle group comes after China rejected a similar request by another US Navy ship

HONG KONG: A US aircraft carrier docked in Hong Kong on Wednesday, days after a pair of American B-52 bombers flew over the disputed South China Sea.
The arrival of the USS Ronald Reagan and its battle group in the Asian financial hub comes after China rejected a similar request by another US Navy ship amid a spike in tensions between the countries’ militaries.
China has demanded the US cease military activity of all kind near its South China Sea island claims that it has been rapidly fortifying.
In late September, a Chinese destroyer came close to the USS Decatur in the South China Sea in what the US Navy called an “unsafe and unprofessional maneuver.”
The Navy said in a statement that interactions were planned with Hong Kong citizens through sports, community relations projects and tours of the Reagan. More than 4,400 men and women are usually aboard the carrier.
“The abundant growth and prosperity that surrounds us in Hong Kong is what the United States Seventh Fleet seeks to preserve for all nations in this important region,” Rear Adm. Karl O. Thomas, commander Carrier Strike Group 5, said in the statement.
Meanwhile, US Pacific Air Forces said two B-52 bombers flew over the South China Sea on Monday, calling it a “routine training mission.”
The B-52H Stratofortress bombers departed Andersen Air Force Base in Guam as part of the US Indo-Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence operations that began in 2004, Pacific Air Forces said in a statement Wednesday.
“This recent mission is consistent with international law and United States’ long-standing commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the statement said.