Climate panel says upper limit on emissions is nearing

The New York Times reports: For the first time, the world’s top climate scientists on Friday formally embraced an upper limit on greenhouse gases while warning that it is likely to be exceeded within decades if emissions continue at a brisk pace, underscoring the profound challenge humanity faces in bringing global warming under control.

A panel of experts appointed by the United Nations, unveiling its latest assessment of climate research, reinforced its earlier conclusions that global warming is real, that it is caused primarily if not exclusively by human emissions, and that it is likely to get substantially worse unless efforts to limit those emissions are rapidly accelerated.

“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes,” the report said. “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

Going well beyond its four previous analyses of the emissions problem, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change endorsed a “carbon budget” for humanity — an upper limit on the amount of the primary greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, that can be emitted from industrial activities and forest destruction.

To stand the best chance of keeping the planetary warming below an internationally agreed target of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels and thus avoiding the most dangerous effects of climate change, the panel found, only about 1 trillion tons of carbon can be burned and the resulting gas spewed into the atmosphere.

Just over half that amount has already been emitted since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and at current rates of energy consumption, the trillionth ton will be released around 2040, according to calculations by Myles R. Allen, a scientist at the University of Oxford and one of the authors of the new report. More than 3 trillion tons of carbon are still left in the ground as fossil fuels. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian notes some of the key points from the IPCC report:

• Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are now at levels “unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.”

• Since the 1950’s it’s “extremely likely” that human activities have been the dominant cause of the temperature rise.

• Concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased to levels that are unprecedented in at least 800,000 years. The burning of fossil fuels is the main reason behind a 40% increase in C02 concentrations since the industrial revolution.

• Global temperatures are likely to rise by 0.3C to 4.8C, by the end of the century depending on how much governments control carbon emissions.

• Sea levels are expected to rise a further 26-82cm by the end of the century.

• The oceans have acidified as they have absorbed about a third of the carbon dioxide emitted.

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