A local climate scientist thinks the latest report from the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contains the same dire warning we have heard for the past several decades, but it is more confident in its findings.
Mel Reasoner says the report released this month, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, tends to use words like “unequivocal” and “undisputed” rather than words the IPCC may have used in the past like “highly likely.”
For example, the report opens by stating, “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, and biosphere have occurred.”
Reasoner says the report leaves no doubt as to who is responsible for the climate crisis, and he says the technical details and research methods are more sophisticated than in previous IPCC reports.
“The details have been refined and the projections are based on better modelling,” he says. “We have more confidence in what has happened and what we can expect to happen.”
The IPCC is the United Nations body, established in 1988, that assesses the science related to climate change. It will sponsor an international conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, this fall, to be attended by about 190 world leaders.
Reasoner says the report is a clear statement on the reach of climate impacts and extremes, showing that it is affecting every inhabited region of the planet with extremes of weather and climate.
He says the report states that the planet has been hotter in the past decade than at any time in the last 125,000 years, and that this is a result of burning fossil fuels, which has caused Earth to warm by 1.1 C above pre-industrial levels.
Reasoner, who has a PhD in earth and atmospheric sciences, describes that conclusion as “a powerful new statement.”
Reasoner’s company, Climatic Resources Consulting, provides climate change information to the Columbia Basin Trust, the City of Edmonton, and communities in Nova Scotia, among others.
The report, which is the first instalment of a three-part document the remainder of which will be published next year, has 234 authors from 66 countries, with another 517 contributing authors. It contains cited references from 14,000 studies.
The report finds that “unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5 C or even 2 C will be beyond reach,” resulting in heatwaves that would affect global agriculture and health.
An increase of 1.5 C is generally seen as the most that the planet could withstand without widespread social, environmental and economic upheaval.
Increasing temperature, in addition to making the world hotter, will lead to more intense rainfall and flooding, changes to global rainfall patterns, sea-level rise, permafrost thawing, loss of glaciers and icecaps, marine heatwaves, ocean acidification and ocean warming, the report states. Some of these changes, once in place, could take decades or centuries to reverse.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has described the report as a “code red for humanity.”
“The alarm bells are deafening,” he said in a statement. “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”
How this fossil fuel reduction will happen is not addressed in the report, which leaves those questions to governments, business, and industry.
“It’s difficult, because when you get into the international relations between governments it tends to be somewhat infantile,” says Reasoner. “One government will say, well, look, (other governments are) not doing this, so I’m not going to do it.”
He would like to see the Canadian government take an international leadership role by eliminating subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
“You can quibble about the amount, but it’s not small,” he says, adding that those dollars should go toward creating a low-carbon economy.
And he says the government could lower emissions by scrapping the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Does Reasoner thinks this new report will move governments and industry to work harder at lowering emissions?
“You would think policy-makers would be connecting the dots, and frankly, what’s happening is lip service,” he says, adding that they should be motivated by the flooding in Germany, the wildfires in Greece, and the heatwave combined with wildfires in western North America.
There is no shortage of well-developed ideas on how to transition to a low carbon economy, he says, and governments are aware of them but so far choose not to pursue them.
Reasoner expects more intense wildfire seasons in B.C. and continued smoky Kootenay summers, and he’s considering moving out of B.C. to escape it.
“There’s that apocalyptic feeling of looking straight at the sun, an orange ball at noon, and knowing that you’re breathing that stuff. It’s not good to be living in and breathing air that you can see.”