This week, scientists and representatives from every country on Earth are gathering in South Korea to put the finishing touches on a report that, if followed, would change the course of history.
The report is a roadmap for possible ways to keep climate change to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. Anything beyond that amount of warming, and the planet starts to really go haywire. So the International Panel on Climate Change — a U.N.-sponsored, Nobel Peace Prize-winning assemblage of scientists — wants to show how we can avoid that. To be clear, hitting that goal would require a radical rethink in almost every aspect of society. But the report finds that not meeting the goal would upend life as we know it, too.
“This will be one of the most important meetings in the IPCC’s history,” said Hoesung Lee, the group’s chair, in his opening address on Monday.
The report will be released on October 8. From leaked drafts, we know the basics of scientists’ findings: World greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2020 — just 15 months from now. The scientists also show the difference in impacts between 1.5 and 2 degrees would not be minor — it could be make-or-break for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, for example, which would flood every coastal city on Earth should it collapse.
“The decisions we make now about whether we let 1.5 or 2 degrees or more happen will change the world enormously,” said Heleen de Coninck, a Dutch climate scientist and one of the report’s lead authors, in an interview with the BBC. “The lives of people will never be the same again either way, but we can influence which future we end up with.”
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