21 september 2013

World leaders must co-operate on talks for strong new climate change deal

The most comprehensive study of the science of climate change is released this week, with an urgent message for governments

Nicholas Stern
The Observer, Saturday 21 September 2013 21.00 BST

On Friday, 195 governments around the world will accept a summary of the most comprehensive assessment of the basic science of climate change that has ever been written. The IPCC's report, which has been prepared by 259 researchers from 39 countries, will show even more clearly how human activities, primarily burning fossil fuels and deforestation, are creating a dangerous trend with immense risks for the lives and livelihoods of billions of people around the world from shifts in extreme weather, rising sea levels and other serious problems.

It will also underline the fact that delay is making things much worse, both because the ratchet effect of emissions is causing a rapid accumulation of greenhouse gases and because we are locking in our dependence on the fossil fuels that cause the problem.

Current action is much too weak to reduce emissions by enough to avoid a significant probability of the global average temperature rising by more than 2C above its pre-industrial level by the end of this century. The Earth has not experienced a global temperature more than 2C higher than pre-industrial since the Pliocene epoch 3m years ago, when the polar ice caps were much smaller and sea levels were about 20 metres higher than today. Modern humans have only been around for about 250,000 years, so we have no experience of such a climate.

What we have learned from history is that if people are faced with increased dangers of floods, droughts and other extreme weather, they will try to escape, resulting in population movements of perhaps hundreds of millions, leading to widespread and continued conflict. We have to decide if this is the kind of world we want to present to our children and grandchildren.

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