With increasing temperatures and extreme weather proving that climate change is well underway, a leading scientist reports that failing to take action before 2020 will increase the costs of addressing it by $5 trillion.
Following the failed Doha convention on Climate Change last month, and calls for world leaders to stop "fiddling while while Rome burns," another study published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, offers hope for the planet—if action is taken immediately. If nations are more aggressive limiting greenhouse gas emissions—by two-thirds by 2016—they can still reduce climate damage by 20 to 65 percent.
Leaders from nearly 200 countries last month failed to reach agreement to limit climate change to 2°C—the amount beyond which most scientists agree would result in devastating consequences. Instead, they allowed themselves until 2015 to sign a legally binding agreement, and until 2020 to reach that target.
"If there was ever a case of fiddling while Rome burns, then the sadly dilatory response to the threat from climate change surely is it," an editorial Sunday in The Independent stated.
Waiting until then to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, however, will raise the cost of addressing climate change from $20 trillion to $25 trillion, according to Dr. Keywan Riahi of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who conducted the research for The Independent.
According to “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4 Degree C Warmer World Must Be Avoided," a November 2012 report (.pdf) from the World Bank, current emission reduction targets will lead to a temperature increase of more than 3° C by 2100.
"A 4-degree Celsius world would be one of unprecedented heat waves, severe drought, and major floods in many regions, with serious impacts on ecosystems and associated services," the report states.
However, a study in the journal Nature Climate Change estimates that cutting greenhouse gas emissions limits by two-thirds by 2016 would reduce climate damage by 20 to 65 percent.
Specific areas that would benefit include less severe river flooding and declining crop productivity, also due to flooding, Nigel Arnell, director of the University of Reading's Walker Institute, which led the study, told Reuters. The rise of global sea averages could be reduced from 18 to 22 inches to 12 inches, the report states.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions won't avoid the impacts of climate change altogether of course, but our research shows it will buy time to make things like buildings, transport systems and agriculture more resilient to climate change.
Under the most rigorous scenario, global greenhouse gas emissions would peak in 2016 and be reduced by 5 percent annually until 2050.
On Friday, the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee released the draft National Climate Assessment, which scientists say set off even more "climate alarms."
Center for American Progress Distinguished Senior Fellow Carol M. Browner, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator and former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, told Ecowatch:
Climate alarms continued to blare in 2012, which was the hottest year on record in the United States. And destructive Superstorm Sandy was one of 11 storms, floods, droughts and heat waves last year that each caused at least $1 billion in damages. The draft assessment warns us that the loss of lives and livelihoods will only get worse, and no part of the nation is safe.
Still, even scientists offering hope for the planet if emissions are reduced sooner acknowledge that such measures would only "delay impacts by several decades."