UN panel warns against impacts of climate change

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The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report last week detailing a dim future for the Earth if global warming is not addressed.

According to National Geographic, scientists in the report argue that world leaders have only a few years left to reduce carbon emissions enough to avoid “catastrophic warming.” Warming would lead to rises in sea levels and large-scale shifts in temperature that would drastically affect human life as well as ecosystems.

According to a press release by the IPCC, the world is ill prepared to respond to such risks. Climate change is a “man-made” construct, according to Vicente Barros, co-chair of Working Group II, but addressing the problem has long been a political issue.

“People need to agree on what can be done,” Melissa Hulting, an employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said. “It’s hard to agree on how to begin addressing climate change.”

The debate on climate change is decades old, the divide on action stemming from a division of party lines. Working Group II, the group in charge of the report, uses data from a previous study to create a case for the growing instability of the climate system.

“Scientists can point to data, which is undeniable,” Mark Potosnak, a professor of environmental studies at DePaul, said. “Global warming is an abstract concept that is difficult for many to wrap their heads around, but the data shows that Earth is getting hotter by the decade.”

Adapting to a changing climate instead of reacting to past events is critical to reducing the risks from a changing climate, according to the IPCC.

“Climate-change adaptation is not an exotic agenda that has never been tried. Governments, firms and communities around the world are building experience with adaptation,” Chris Field, co- chair of Working Group II, said in a press release. “This experience formsastartingpointforbolder, more ambitious adaptations that will be important as climate and society continue to change.”

Adaptation, according to the report, would help industries that have already been impacted most by climate change, such as agriculture, water supplies and human health. Agriculture in particular has already seen the impact of climate change due to intense droughts and flooding that have occurred recently.

Different strategies have been proposed to help laws that are already in effect at the national level. Groups at all levels of government have made efforts to reduce emissions as well as their carbon footprint.

“At the national level, EPA is issuing rules for carbon dioxide,” Seth Johnson of the Environmental Law and Policy Center said. “But there needs to be strong implementation at the state level.”

States have the ability to enforce Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which requires greater energy production from renewable sources like wind and solar. States can also implement energy efficiency programs to curb the usage of fossil fuels. Potosnak said the conversation for adapting to climate change, using the report as a basis, can be brought about by linking it to recent natural disasters like the mudslide in Washington.

Meanwhile, Chicago is taking steps to reduce its footprint. The Chicago Climate Action Plan was adopted in 2008 and aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

According to student Anne Baldwin, an environmental studies major, those who live in the city can drive less and buy locally to reduce their own footprint and contribution to climate change.