‘the policymakers, or at least their aides, should make the effort to read the whole report. Incredibly, the stark summary is still a relatively conservative assessment of the consequences we might face if global warming does exceed 1.5C. [The summary] is written in matter-of-fact language, but it omits some of the biggest risks of climate change, which are described in the full text.
For instance, the summary indicates that warming of 2C would have very damaging impacts on many parts of the world. But it does not mention the potential for human populations to migrate and be displaced as a result, leading to the possibility of war.
The summary also leaves out important information about so-called “tipping points” in the climate system, beyond which impacts become unstoppable, irreversible or accelerate.
It is not clear why such crucial information has been left out of the summary. Perhaps the authors felt that there are too many uncertainties in our knowledge to be definitive. But the danger is that policymakers will assume the absence of these very significant risks from the summary means that researchers have assessed them to be unimportant or impossible.’
In this initial response to the IPCC report by the paleoclimatologist Paul Beckwith (more from him will follow in the coming days), Beckwith notes that current warming is given by the IPCC as ‘1 degree above pre-industrial levels’ where the period 1850-1900 is given as the pre-industrial baseline. This is misleading, he says, as the original pre-industrial baseline date used in the first ever IPCC report was 1750 -surely a more correct definition of a ‘pre-industrial’ date. The difference in warming between 1750 and 1850 is given variously as somewhere between 0 and 0.3 degrees, according to different estimates (outside this report). The implication is that it is not unlikely that we are at 1.2 to 1.3 degrees above the true pre-industrial baseline, not 1 degree. That the report is founded on misleading figures does not bode well for the rest of the report.
The second main failing of the IPCC report, defined by this initial assessment by Paul Beckwith, is that it is claimed that methane will not play any significant role in global warming at least until 2100. Beckwith draws attention to recent observed methane leakages from the permafrost thawing in the Arctic circle. He also alludes to the fracking boom in the USA, asserting that methane leakages from fracking infrastructures are significant. As America is planning on increasing fracking up till 2025, the omission of atmospheric methane releases from the IPCC report is troubling.
In the UK, Wales and Scotland have banned fracking. In England it has been left up to direct action activists to stop fracking from taking off. Thankfully this effort gained some publicity recently with the so-called Frack Free Four, whose several month sentences for obstructing fracking operations were widely condemned, and with a little luck will be overturned at appeal.
Meanwhile, after a lull of a few years, in 2017 (the year after the Paris Accord) global coal production and consumption began to increase again.
In spite of successive IPCC reports since 1990 and non-binding international agreements (the Paris Accord of which is the latest), the global economy is not kicking its addiction to fossil fuels. Without sufficient political will from governments to rapidly accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewables within the next five years, as is necessary even by the IPCC’s conservative standards, there is only one sensible option left. The one sensible option for us billions of human beings who would be affected by catastrophic climate breakdown, is to practice mass civil disobedience, to force our governments to change.
It is time to rebel.