UN to finalize scientific report on how hard global warming is hitting home

FILE - People visit a thermometer July 11, 2021 in Death Valley National Park, California.  A special United Nations panel puts the finishing touches to a major scientific report that is supposed to tell people the

FILE – People visit a thermometer July 11, 2021 in Death Valley National Park, California. A special United Nations panel puts the finishing touches to a major scientific report that is supposed to tell people the “so what?” on climate change. The report will highlight how global warming is disrupting people’s lives, their natural environment and the Earth itself. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

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Scientists and governments met on Monday to finalize a major UN report on how global warming is disrupting people’s lives, their natural environment and the Earth itself. Don’t expect a flowery Valentine’s Day on the planet: instead, a group of activists predicted “a nightmare painted in the dry language of science.”

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a collection of hundreds of the world’s best scientists, releases three huge reports on climate change every five to seven years. The latest update, which won’t be complete until the end of February, will explain how climate change is already affecting people and the planet, what to expect in the future, and the risks and benefits of adaptation. to a warmer world.

“We are concerned that the physical climate around us is changing,” said panel co-chair Debra Roberts, a South African environmental scientist. “But for most people in their day-to-day life…they want to know: so what? What does this mean for their lives, their aspirations, their jobs, their families, the places where they live.

The report has seven regional chapters “about how physical changes in climate are altering people’s lives”, she said. And she said it will have a strong focus on cities.

Even without seeing the final report, activists call it a wake-up call for the planet.

“The IPCC’s horrifying evidence of escalating climate impacts should show a nightmare painted in the dry language of science,” Teresa Anderson, climate justice issues manager at ActionAid International, said in a statement.

Scientists won’t yet say precisely what’s in the report as its critical summary is still the subject of intense negotiations between authors and governments over the next two weeks, with consensus needed for the final version. . Drafts that have circulated publicly will be edited, sometimes dramatically, before being released to the public on February 28.

Last August, the first of three reports, which prompted the UN to declare ‘code red’, outlined the physical science of climate change, while a third report released in March will focus more on what can be done to curbing and adapting to climate change. warming up.

Without going into specifics, report co-chair Hans-Otto Poertner said the science is clear that there are limits – including temperature limits – to what key ecosystems, species and humans can endure. And in some places the warming is close to these limits and in a few cases, like most coral reefs around the world, has even exceeded them.

“We are losing living spaces for species and for ourselves,” Poertner, a German biologist, said at a press briefing last week. “Because with climate change, parts of the planet would become uninhabitable.”

The report will also discuss ways to adapt to an ever-changing world, including how certain technological fixes can have unwanted side effects.

“In some countries in the northern hemisphere, there’s been an assumption (of) ‘Oh, well, if we can’t control climate change, we let it go and we adapt to it. So we adapt to the impacts of climate change,” Poertner said. “And that’s certainly a very illusory approach.”

Environmentalists argue that the extreme weather patterns already seen in parts of the world in recent years show how urgent it is for governments to address the growing cost of climate change.

“The next IPCC report will confirm what we already know about the overwhelming toll of heatwaves, droughts, floods, storms, wildfires and ocean acidification on people and critical ecosystems” , said Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “This comprehensive scientific assessment will underscore just how much worse the climate crisis stands to get unless we take bold global action.

Poertner warned of “tipping points” and the risk of mass extinction like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs from Earth.

Speaking at the opening of the meeting, which is being held largely online with only a small physical gathering in Berlin, the head of the UN weather agency said it was important to consider the impact that discussions of climate apocalypse might have on people’s mental well-being. -to be.

“We also have to be a little bit careful about how we communicate the results of our science, the tipping points and if we talk about the collapse of the biosphere and the disappearance of humanity,” said Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization. . “You have to be careful about that, not to scare the young people too much. This fear should be aimed at decision makers.

These reports – which won the scientific panel a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 – are used when governments meet each year to negotiate how to curb climate change.

German Science Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger said governments’ endorsement of the summary was key to concerted political action.

“We have to take everyone with us,” she told The Associated Press. “That’s why we need to translate the results and discuss them internationally.”

Roberts, co-chair of the panel, made it clear that the message to policy makers is likely to be clear.

“You don’t just need incremental changes,” she told a UN Foundation briefing last week. “You need systemic change.”

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Learn more about AP’s climate coverage at http://www.apnews.com/Climate

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears and Frank Jordans at @wirereporter.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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