The worst effects of climate change could happen sooner than expected.
That’s the warning of a report released October 8 by the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change. The panel included 91 scientists from 40 countries. They analyzed thousands of studies.
The Earth has warmed by 1.8°F since industrial coal burning started in the 1850s, the report says. At the current rate, the temperature will reach 2.7° above preindustrial levels by 2040. That slight increase could expose tens of millions more people worldwide to 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, without a doubt,” says climate scientist Natalie Mahowald, one of the lead authors.
The report urges world leaders to act. To prevent 2.7° of warming, carbon dioxide pollution would have to drop by nearly half in the next 12 years. By 2050, it would have to be zero. The scientists advise governments to set a cap on carbon emissions or tax industries that pollute.
The report also says the use of coal, oil, and gas would need to be drastically cut. Use of wind and solar power would need to increase.
“We have a monumental task in front of us, but it is not impossible,” Mahowald says. “This is our chance to decide what the world is going to look like.”