On October 8, the United Nations (U.N.) issued a warning: The worst effects of climate change could come sooner than expected.
A U.N. panel of scientists says the Earth has warmed by 1.8°F since the 1850s. The temperature could rise another .9° by 2040. That tiny increase would expose tens of millions more people worldwide to dangerous weather: heat waves, wildfire, food and water shortages, and coastal flooding. Entire ecosystems could be wiped out.
“For some people, this is a life-or-death situation,” says Natalie Mahowald. She is one of the 91 scientists from 40 countries who worked on the U.N. report.
The scientists urge world leaders to act. To prevent this warming, carbon dioxide pollution would have to drop by 45% in the next 12 years. Governments could set a limit on carbon emissions or tax industries that pollute.
The report also says burning coal for energy would have to stop almost completely by 2050. Use of wind and solar power would need to increase.
It is a monumental task. “But it is not impossible,” Mahowald says. “This is our chance to decide what the world is going to look like.”