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Leaked IPCC draft report highlights risk of 'abrupt and irreversible change' as carbon emissions continue

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Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Tuesday, September 2, 2014, 8:44 AM - An upcoming report by the UN's International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is pulling no punches when it comes to delivering the message about global warming and climate change - the current changes we are seeing are already considered to be dangerous, and we face substantial risks by delaying action to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions and thus slow down the rate at which our planet is accumulating heat.

This draft report, released to governments this week for comment and obtained by the Associated Press, is the final version penned by the scientists who wrote the three IPCC 5th assessment reports over the past year. Once the world's governments have had a chance to offer up their comments, these scientists will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark at the end of October, to produce the final 'Summary for Policymakers', to offer advice on what we need to do, and how we need to go about doing it.

While this report holds no new information, over and above the already-published parts of the 5th assessment report, it is a simple and direct summary of all the science background, the impacts, and the mitigation strategies to deal with global warming and climate change. It also gives the climate scientists involved another opportunity to emphasize to the world the profound importance of dealing with this issue.

Increasing heat content of Earth's environments, due to
CO2 emissions. c/o Skeptical Science

"Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reduction in snow and ice, and in global mean-sea-level rise," says the report, "and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century."

"The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases."

The emphasis in the report is definitely on risk. According to AP science writer Seth Borenstein, the 127-page report uses that word over 350 times! However, another important aspect that they are trying to get across is that, should we fail to act, some of the changes to come will be very sudden, and they could be irreversible, meaning that our actions - however unintended - will result in permanent changes to Earth's climate system.

According to the report: "Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems."

CLIMATE CHANGE ASSESSMENT: "Climate change isn't coming, it's here!" To watch the video, click here!

In an interview with Real News, University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann discussed the leaked report, and mentioned something that is very important to remember when it comes to these UN reports, with the hundreds of scientists from around the world that participate in compiling of the scientific data and policy suggestions:

"The report represents a very conservative viewpoint that can be shared by, essentially, all of the scientists contributing to the report, who have various views and various findings," he said, which leads to what he calls a "scientific lowest common denominator" - a message that all the scientists can agree on, regardless of which end of the scale they are at, with respect to the threat of climate change.

In fact, he says, this 'lowest common denominator' means that the IPCC reports have actually underestimated the climate change impacts of global warming in some cases.

"We see that with the dramatic decrease in Arctic sea ice," he noted as one example. "It's happening faster than the IPCC said it should."

Given the conservative nature that dominates these reports, Mann finds it particularly interesting that this upcoming synthesis report uses such 'stark terms' - as he calls them - saying that "there's no question left: the Earth is warming, the climate is changing, it's due to human activity, and if we don't do something about it, it's going to be a real problem."

Based on the findings of Part 3 of the 5th assessment report, Mitigation of Climate Change, it is still possible to act to limit the impacts of global warming on our climate, and we are at a point now when it it still relatively inexpensive to put those plans into effect.

Also, while some have claimed that acting to limit climate change will take too high a toll on the economy, it is failing to act that will actually have the greatest economic impact, and in fact we are already seeing the economic impacts of this now. Also, each delay we place in front of us for acting on this will only make the entire process of mitigation more expensive, and demand greater cuts and sacrifices from us, as a result.

So, acting now will not only give us the greatest results for our efforts, but - as we will, inevitably, need to act - it will also require the least amount of effort, overall.

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