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Your View: Take U.N. report detailing warning signs of climate change seriously

Diane White Husic

On Oct. 8, a significant report was released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The highly technical document has a ridiculously long title: “Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.”

In case you missed the release announcement amid all the other news and campaign ads for the elections, the bottom line is that countries need to do much more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to build resilience against the increasingly dangerous impacts of climate change. And they need to do it quickly.

One day after the report was released, a tropical depression became Hurricane Michael, which on Oct. 10 made landfall in Florida as the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to do so in this country. Just one month earlier, Hurricane Florence, the wettest tropical storm recorded in the Carolinas, hit the East Coast and wreaked havoc for days.

IPCC reports, which go back to 1990, analyze published scientific literature that is relevant to understanding the risk of human-induced climate change. These assessments inform the parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change — the people who negotiate international agreements such as the 2015 Paris agreement.

Because many nations were concerned that a 2-degree limit on warming in the treaty was an insufficient target, the Framework Convention invited the IPCC to provide a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degree Celsius. This was timed to guide the deliberations at the 24th Conference of Parties (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, in December, where negotiators will attempt to address the many unresolved complexities of this global environmental, social and political challenge.

We should all read the IPCC report. The most sobering section of the report is Chapter 3 in which the impacts of a 1.5-degree Celsius global warming on natural and human systems are described.

Data show that the planet has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius, and we are on target to see the 1.50-degree increase by 2030 to 2052. Besides even more extreme weather events, there will be dire impacts on food and water security, on our terrestrial, wetland and ocean ecosystems, and on our economy. Just think of how a single hurricane affects businesses, food crops and livestock, shipping, transportation corridors, communications and the transmission of electricity.

Consider talking with one of the many scientists at the numerous institutions of higher education in the Lehigh Valley region. Get their interpretation of the findings in this report.

Think about all the strange weather events we have had in Pennsylvania and the country recently. Talk to farmers about their crop losses or the ski resorts about their recent ski seasons. Talk to health officials about the rise in cases of West Nile virus. Ask friends and relatives in Florida about the toxic algal blooms. Tangible signs of change are all around us — all of which are consistent with predictions documented in almost three decades’ worth of IPCC reports.

According to the “Handbook of Public Policy Analysis,” “a political agenda is a list of subjects or problems to which government officials as well as individuals outside the government are paying serious attention at any given time.”

As both an individual outside the government and a scientist who has been involved in studying the impacts of rising greenhouse gases on photosynthetic organisms or ecosystems since the 1980s, I guess I have to agree that climate change is a political agenda for me. It is a serious problem that deserves the attention of all of us.

Diane White Husic is dean of the School of Natural and Health Sciences and Interim Environmental Science and Studies program director at Moravian College. She has attended U.N. Conference of Parties climate meetings since 2009.

This Op Ed originally appeared on the Morning Call website on November 6, 2018.  To read it on the Morning Call website, please visit Your View: Take U.N. report detailing warning signs of climate change seriously