The world's leading climate scientists gathered in Japan on Tuesday to begin hashing out the final details of a "grim" climate report, which both leaked drafts and those familiar with its contents say will call on policy makers to take immediate action or face a climate future that will otherwise be marked by widespread ecological and human catastrophe.
Of those harsh challenges, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report—according to a draft version of the leaked earlier this year— will show that the four degrees Celsius rise that we are currently careening towards will undoubtedly cause increasing natural disasters, including: more violent storms, forest fires, devastating droughts, flooding, widespread hunger, disease, and a rise in ocean levels by up to a meter.
However, as Kaisa Kosonen explains on the Greenpeace blog Tuesday, the difference in their latest report from previous work by the IPCC and other similar warnings from the global scientific community is its emphasis on the stark "choice" now before humanity.
This latest message from the IPCC, Kosonen writes, is that people—both inside and outside of government— either "reduce and manage the risks ahead and do what’s needed to keep warming as far below 2 degrees Celsius as possible, or we continue to do too little too late, drifting from crisis to crisis and on towards a disastrous 4 degrees world."
"The IPCC will paint a picture of both these possible futures," Kosonen notes.
Over the course of this week the scientists will be finalizing a summary of the 2,000 page report directed at policy makers. The report and summary will be released Monday, March 31, following the week-long summit.
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"I think everybody who works on the climate issue understands that climate change is truly one of the defining challenges of the 21st century," Chris Field, of the U.S.-based Carnegie Institution for Science, told the event's opening ceremony on Tuesday. However, said Field, the IPCC is "uniquely positioned" to enable policymakers to "deal effectively, robustly and optimistically with challenges for the future."
The IPCC report is the second installment of the group's Fifth Assessment Report—a four year project that has combined the work of thousands of scientists around the world.
The first installment, released in September, said warming in the climate system is "unequivocal" and the cause of current and future weather-related catastrophes.
"Today we are in a situation where governments have promised to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius but are heading instead towards a 4 degree world," writes Kosonen. "They are neither preparing for a 2 degree nor a 4 degree world, trying to ignore the megatrend of climate change."
"Will we continue drifting from one disaster to another, or will we take control of our future?" she asks. "We're at a crossroads and the choices we make now will determine how history judges us."