Updated: September 22, 2013 6:25AM
We did it.
And now we have to fix it.
It’s hard to imagine drawing any other conclusion from the latest news on global warming, this time from the preeminent body on the topic:
The odds are at least 95 percent that human activity is the cause of warming of the planet since the 1950s, a United Nations panel of experts has concluded in a draft report leaked to Reuters and the New York Times. The report, which may change slightly in its details but isn’t expected to deviate from its broad conclusions, will be finalized in late September.
That 95 percent figure is up from 90 percent in 2007, 66 percent in 2001 and about 50 percent in 1995. The report comes from the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of several hundred scientists that survey and summarize scientific findings on climate change.
“It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010,” the draft report says, according to the New York Times. “There is high confidence that this has warmed the ocean, melted snow and ice, raised global mean sea level and changed some climate extremes in the second half of the 20th century.”
The draft report also is expected to address a phenomenon that has fueled skeptics — a slight slowdown in the pace of rising global temperatures since about 1998 — by attributing the slowdown to short-term variables and noting other signs of a warming planet, including polar ice melting and the warming of oceans and rising sea levels, Bloomberg news reported. The draft report says sea levels, on the extreme end, could rise by more than three feet by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not controlled.
The draft report lays out alternate futures, depending on the actions (or inactions) of governments across the globe.
That’s the ‘fix it’ part we referenced at the top of this editorial.
After years of inaction in Congress on climate change, we’re encouraged by an ambitious climate-change plan President Barack Obama laid out in late June that relies on executive action and existing law.
The centerpiece is setting carbon pollution limits for the first time on new and existing power plants, the source of 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. This comes after a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door for regulation of carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. Obama also proposes federal loan guarantees for new technologies to corral carbon dioxide and doubling the amount of renewable energy produced on federal lands, among other things.
This is a good start, but only a start. More dramatic changes to the world’s fossil-fuel-driven economy are needed, initiated both domestically and internationally. Domestically, pushing a carbon tax or a stronger regulation system through Congress remains an essential long-term goal.
And internationally, the U.S. must lead the way through bold actions at home and as a world leader toward a meaningful international agreement to limit global warming. After failed attempts in recent years, the goal is to codify a new international agreement by December 2015. Some 194 countries made commitments in 2009 to limit global warming, including top emitter China, and most countries are taking steps toward meeting that goal, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. But the obstacles remain significant to an agreement that promises to reverse the rate of carbon pollution before climate damage becomes irreversible.
But as the latest — and most definitive — assessment on global warming makes clear, manmade global warming is here and already damaging local economies, livelihoods and the natural world we cherish. The only question now is how severe do we want that damage to be — for us today and the generations that will be forced to inhabit a hotter and less hospitable planet.