A news organization called Climate Home News this week obtained, and then published, a draft of a UN climate science report. The report assesses the feasibility and likely benefits of achieving the most ambitious goal set by the Paris climate agreement – which is to hold total global average warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The conclusion is that it will be difficult to cut emissions quickly enough.
While there could be concerns about the U.S. obstructing the release of the report, Phil Duffy, president and director of the climate change think tank Woods Hole Research Center, says that a leak like this doesn’t necessarily imply that. The review process gives many people access to the drafts, and it is neither uncommon or surprising for a media outlet to end up with a copy.
Duffy finds the report’s sobering findings equally unsurprising. As research has progressed, it has become evident that climate change is happening faster than previously expected. There is also increasing concern that we may soon reach thresholds – points of no return – that would commit us to the complete melting of Greenland’s glaciers or Antarctica.
That means that it will be difficult to cut greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough to avoid dramatic impacts, and the leaked report emphasizes that renewable energy and energy efficiency won’t be enough. We will need technologies that can pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and developing those will require financial and political support.
But Duffy cautions against excessive pessimism. He says the economic models used to evaluate emissions reduction schemes don’t take into account technological innovations that are yet to come. And he points to the U.S. space program of the 1960s as an example of the rapid advancements the science community can make.