Climate change report urges immediate action

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Gas boiler

But they provide little hope the world will rise to the challenge.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has delivered an ultimatum of sorts on the fate of the planet with regard to global warming.

The report from the IPCC focuses on what will happen if the Earth warms by 1.5 degrees Celsius, a lower benchmark for catastrophe than the former consensus of 2 degrees. It would cut in half the number of animals and plants that would lose habitats with the attendant risk of extinction.

- There would be substantially fewer heat waves, downpours and droughts.

- And it just may be enough to save most of the world's coral reefs from dying.

"The reality is that we're very off track from where we need to be", says Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, who was not involved with the new report.

Limiting warming to 0.9 degrees from now means the world can keep "a semblance" of the ecosystems we have.

The new report sets those levels much lower and measures devastating climate change effects much sooner.

"Within the next decade or so, we will need to radically change the way we build our houses, move from one place to another and grow our food", said in a statement. "The report would not have been released without consensus of all". The Arctic, which would be ice-free about once per century at 1.5 degrees of temperature rise, would be ice-free once per decade at 2 degrees. It could prevent as many as 2.5 million square kilometers of permafrost from melting over the long term.

"Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society", an IPCC press release reads. The 1.5 was at the urging of vulnerable countries that called 2 degrees a death sentence.

"Even the scientists were surprised to see how much science was already there and how much they could really differentiate and how great are the benefits of limiting global warming at 1.5 compared to 2", Thelma Krug, vice-chair of the IPCC, told Reuters.

Written by 91 authors and review editors from 40 countries, the report also features 133 contributing authors, over 6,000 scientific references and was subject to 42,001 expert and government review comments before publication.

The latest IPCC report comes ahead of the Katowice Climate Change Conference in Poland in December, where the world's governments will examine progress made in holding to the Paris Agreements of 2015.

These countries are "projected to experience the largest impacts on economic growth due to climate change should the warming increase", the report added. They said it is up to governments to decide whether those unprecedented changes are acted upon. However, Li said that figure was a "serious underestimation". "This is our chance to decide what the world is going to look like".

Carbon emissions need to reach "net zero" by 2050 and almost halve from 2010 levels by 2030. To do that, nations agreed to cut their emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

"Oil use is reduced consistently across most of 1.5°C scenarios, about a 30 to 80 percent reduction from 2010 levels in 2050".

The world is already experiencing around 1C of global warming, and events such as floods, storms and heatwaves like the one in the United Kingdom this summer have become increasingly likely as a result of climate change, according to experts.

The report is sensitive to the fact that changes required to meet 1.5℃ must be consistent with the UN's wider sustainable development goals.

World leaders could reverse the damage (to the tune of trillions of dollars), but that would depend largely on whether lawmakers want to invest in the cause.

Coral and other ecosystems are also at risk.

The outcome will determine whether "my grandchildren would get to see lovely coral reefs", Princeton's Oppenheimer said.

"It will take government resolve", he said.

Hong Kong's climate action plan, published a year ago, only pledges a 26 to 36 per cent cut by 2030 from 2005 levels.

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