According to a new report from the United Nations, global temperatures could reach an irreversible tipping point in just 12 years if world leaders don’t take drastic measures to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
The report says that worsening food shortages, an increased number of wildfires and a mass die-off of coral reefs could all become reality unless “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” are made.
The need for drastic change in order to avoid a global crisis was a major factor in the creation of the Paris Agreement, which was signed by 195 countries and aims to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Last year, President Trump signaled his intent to withdraw from the agreement, which would greatly reduce its effectiveness.
In Vermont, scientists said the statistics laid out in the report represent what they’ve been wary of for years. Alan Betts, a climate scientist who has published over 170 papers on climate change and global warming, said he’s concerned that the report will do little to change the world’s attitude.
“What usually happens when a report like this comes out is some people take notice who understand the problem, and the political forces that want to ignore the problem go in ignoring it,” Betts said. “But it’s something that we have a discussion of what we value. Do we value our children’s lifetimes?”
Betts expressed his concern that meaningful change will be hard to achieve because world leaders are more concerned about what they view as imminent problems.
“The difficulty is that climate change is incompatible with business as usual,” Betts said.
Gillian Galford, an earth systems scientist and professor at the University of Vermont, says this report is different because it compiles a variety of smaller studies.
“They reviewed over 6,000 different scientific publications to build this consensus,” Galford said. “It becomes sort of a cornerstone of information and we can build action from there.”
Galford also offered a troubling assessment of what would happen if the world largely ignores the report.
“At that point, our options become much smaller and we have less room to manage risk,” Galford said. “As climate becomes more extreme and more variable, a lot of our options for adaptation go away.”
Despite withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the United States saw a record decrease in carbon emissions in 2017.