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Global Warming to Exceed 1.5°C Threshold by 2040, UN Draft Report Warns

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NASA / Oceans Melting Greenland Mission

A final draft report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says only "rapid and far-reaching" changes in the world economy can keep global warming below the internationally agreed target barrier.

"If emissions continue at their present rate, human-induced warming will exceed 1.5°C by around 2040," the draft states, according to Reuters, which obtained a copy of the report.


The report, dated June 4, is due for publication in October at the 48th Session of the IPCC in South Korea after revisions and approval by governments. The document will be the main scientific guide to stave off disastrous climate change.

The 2015 Paris agreement, signed by 197 countries, sets a warming limit of "well below 2°C" over pre-Industrial Revolution levels with an aspirational 1.5°C target to avoid dangerous climate effects such as sea level rise, extreme weather and droughts.

In January, a leak of an earlier draft suggested a "very high risk" the 1.5°C target will be surpassed by mid-century. The current draft reaffirms the findings of the earlier draft, but also includes 25,000 comments from experts and a wider pool of scientific literature, Reuters noted.

The latest news further cements worldwide failure to meet the goals struck in Paris. Last year's Emissions Gap Report from the UN's environment program found that greenhouse gas emissions are set to overshoot the climate accord by about 30 percent. National pledges only covered a third of the cuts needed by 2030 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Annual emissions are likely to hit 53.0-55.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, which greatly exceeds the 42 billion ton threshold for avoiding the 2°C temperature rise, the report found. Notably, even if the national pledges are fully implemented, it is "very likely" global average temperature increase will be at least 3°C by 2100.

"Should the United States follow through with its stated intention to leave the Paris Agreement in 2020, the picture could become even bleaker," the Emissions Gap Report pointed out, referring to President Donald Trump's controversial withdrawal from the Paris agreement. The U.S. is one of the world's largest single emitters of greenhouse gases.

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The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

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The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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