UN Panel Affirms that Climate Change Caused by Humans, Emissions Limit Nearing

The oceans are warming, the ice sheets are melting, and it's official: we are killing the polar bears. The United Nations panel on climate change issued a report Friday to eliminate any remaining shreds of doubt about climate change and who is responsible. With 95 percent certainty, the panel said, human beings have been the leading cause of climate change, at least in the last 50 years.The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that the last three decades were the warmest 30-year stretch in 1400 years. Even more damning, each of those three ten-year periods was progressively warmer than the last.Calling humans the leading cause of climate change might be an understatement. The report attributed "more than half the increase in global surface temperatures from 1951-2010" to us, mostly in the form of fossil fuel emissions.This isn't exactly news. The panel had issued another report in 2007 with similar findings. The question really isn't whether climate change is happening anymore: it's a question of how bad it is and how to stop it. But somehow, partisan politics around the issue have only gotten worse.During the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney went back on his acceptance of the human role in climate change to shore up conservative support. With the growth of Tea Party politics, acceptance and denial are pretty cleanly split down party lines.Secretary of State John Kerry, fresh off talks about Syria and Iran, said that climate change deniers are "playing with fire.""This isn't a run of the mill report to be dumped in a filing cabinet. This isn't a political document produced by politicians. It's science," he said in a statement.

This week, scientists also said climate change was responsible for "unprecedented" flooding in Colorado this month, which killed at least eight people and destroyed thousands of homes. Climate change deniers and wannabe Tea Party politicos are sure to grasp at the report's mention of a slow down in global warming in the last 15 years or so. The panel, however, concluded that the time period is too short to justify any broad conclusions, and a short-term anomaly doesn't change the significance of long-term trends.Kerry dismissed any doubts: "The costs of inaction grow beyond anything that anyone with conscience or common sense should be willing to even contemplate."Here are some of the more jarring predictions of the report:

  • By the end of the century, sea levels might rise somewhere between 26 and 82 centimeters. That's 10.4 to 32.8 inches — remember what that did during Hurricane Sandy?
  • In the same time period, global temperatures may rise .5 to 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Hello, wildfires!
  • It's imperative to do something, but most aspects of climate change will now continue for centuries, even if we stop CO2 emissions now.

Yikes.