A Grim Status Report

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The World Bank has released a new report (.pdf) on climate change that is ostensibly focused on the dire consequences of a rise in average global temperatures by 4 degrees Celsius. That in itself is significant insofar as the Copenhagen Accord of 2009 agreed that it was crucial to cap the worldwide temperature increase at 2 degrees Celsius.

To be clear, no one then — and certainly no one in the three years since — thought we would be able to avoid blowing through the Copenhagen ceiling (although the World Bank report still holds out such hope). That has become seen as inevitable since no substantial or meaningful agreement has been reached on reducing carbon emissions. If you’re interested, Bill McKibben wrote about these numbers in Rolling Stone over the summer.So now we have the World Bank, in a report prepared by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, saying, basically, we sure better cap it at 4 degrees, otherwise there will be hell to pay. (Bear in mind, we’ve already seen a 0.8-degree Celsius increase from preindustrial levels.)

That’s not to say a 4-degree increase will itself be a stable or moderate plateau. Dramatic effects will be felt. “It is also useful to recall that a global mean temperature increase of 4°C approaches the difference between temperatures today and those of the last ice age, when much of central Europe and the northern United States were covered with kilometers of ice and global mean temperatures were about 4.5°C to 7°C lower,” the report said. “And this magnitude of climate change–human induced–is occurring over a century, not millennia.”

The executive summary is magazine-article length and worth your perusal.

The larger point though is that current political and economic trends don’t suggest any kind of substantial reordering of the carbon-based economy is going to happen now or in the near future. In the intermediate term, the prospects of reducing carbon emissions don’t seem any better. The World Bank report is another warning sign that the road ahead is very dangerous. But we’re pushing harder on the accelerator.

Late Update: The original version of this post wasn’t as clear as it could have been that the World Bank report is still officially committed to limiting the increase to 2 degrees.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

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