Even as a geopolitical crisis has our full attention, we cannot ignore other important information about our shared future. Click through to the magazine website where one of our favored interpreters of environmental news helps us understand how The Latest U.N. Climate Report Paints Another Grim Picture:
The Secretary-General cites a “criminal” abdication of leadership. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case that may hamper emissions regulations.
There were two front-page-worthy developments on Monday in the world of climate policy. Perhaps even more significant than either one was the fact that they were at cross-purposes.
At 6 a.m.—noon in central Europe—the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its latest warning to humanity. The group released a report on climate “impacts, adaptation and vulnerability,” which ran to more than thirty-five hundred pages. Hans-Otto Pörtner, a physiologist and marine biologist, based in Germany, who co-chaired the team that assembled the report, summed up its findings as follows: “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”
An abridged version of the report, the so-called Summary for Policymakers, would seem to obviate the need for dystopian fiction. “The rise in weather and climate extremes,” the summary notes, has already led to “irreversible impacts.” Heat waves have become hotter, droughts deeper, and wildfires more frequent. These changes are “contributing to humanitarian crises” that are driving people from all regions of the world out of their homes. Those who have done the least to cause the problem are likely suffering the most from it. What the report calls “global hotspots of high human vulnerability” include East Africa, Central America, and small island nations. So far, at least, attempts to adapt to the changes have been wildly inadequate—“focused more on planning” than actual implementation.
Plants and animals, too, are being pushed much faster than they can adapt. According to the report, “hundreds of local losses of species” can be traced to climate change, as can “mass mortality events” both on land and in the oceans. The prognosis for forests, coral reefs, and low-lying coastal wetlands is bleak. “Damages to and transformation of ecosystems are already key risks for every region due to past global warming and will continue to escalate,” the report observes. António Guterres, the U.N. Secretary-General, called the report “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.” He added, “This abdication of leadership is criminal.”
Just a few hours after the I.P.C.C. released its findings, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency. As Ian Millhiser, a senior correspondent at Vox, observed on Twitter, the case “could potentially nuke the EPA’s authority to fight climate change.” This would guarantee still more “failed climate leadership.”
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