A new, comprehensive report on global warming, prepared by the top climate change agency in the world, doesn't contain much in the way of good news. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change bluntly warns that humanity has just over a decade to slash carbon emissions dramatically if it wants to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
The report has direct implications for Greater Rochester, just as it does every other place on Earth. It says the planet's average temperature has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius – 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit – since the start of the Industrial Revolution. And already, places across the planet are experiencing more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and less Arctic sea ice. To prevent potentially catastrophic effects from climate change, warming needs to be limited 1.5 degrees Celsius, says the report.
"It means we have a lot of work to do," says Abigail Mc-Hugh Grifa, a co-leader of the Rochester People's Climate Coalition.
For a long time, global and environmental leaders talked about the need to keep the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). But in the leadup to the 2016 Paris Agreement, scientists, the IPCC, and heads of state agreed that ceiling was too high, and they agreed to work toward limiting global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The IPCC report lays out the benefits of the more aggressive goal, including greater protection of ecosystems. A 2 degree rise in global average temperature would likely mean an increase in extremely hot days, heavy precipitation in several regions, and drought or dry conditions in other regions.
But the report says that global efforts to prevent climate change have been inadequate, and that staying within the 1.5-degree threshold will "require rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society."
By 2030, global carbon emissions will need to be cut to 45 percent of 2010 levels. And by 2050, they'll have to be low enough that they don't exceed nature and technology's capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
"The next few years are probably the most important in our history," Debra Roberts, co-chair of an IPCC working group, said in the press release.
President Donald Trump isn't taking the report – or climate change in general – seriously, so any sort of federal action seems unlikely. In the US, that's left the matter in the hands of lower governments, from states on down to individual cities, towns, and villages.
New York has been pressing forward with programs to boost solar power and other forms of renewables. The state's utilities are now required to get half of their power from renewables by 2030. But that target isn't aggressive enough to achieve the emissions cuts that the IPCC says are necessary.
About six months ago, the Rochester People's Climate Coalition set a 10-year goal: to make Rochester carbon-neutral by 2027. But members have talked to some people who dismissed the objective with eyerolls or laughter, McHugh-Grifa says.
The IPCC report, however, says that goals like RPCC's are necessary and achievable. Both climate advocates and government officials know what needs to be done to meet that goal, McHugh-Grifa says. She rattles off a list of things, such as switching from fossil-fuel-powered home heating systems, appliances, and vehicles to electric-power ones; programs that expand access to renewable energy and support renewables projects; and much stronger building energy-efficiency requirements.
"The argument against acting is usually that it costs too much," McHugh-Grifa says. But failing to act will clearly prove costly, too, as the city, region, state, country, and world have to adapt to a warming world.