Rising Seas Rising Seas
Hurricane Florence caused extensive damage in Swansboro N.C., and other areas in 2018. Rising seas and a warming planet will make such storms worse and more frequent. (AP Photo/Tom Copeland, File)

The world isn’t doing enough to head off the catastrophic effects of climate change, warned the UN in a major new report.

Without immediate, substantial and global action, the world will be unable to avoid an unlivable future, a new major United Nations climate change report says. 

Current levels of global investment and political will are nowhere near enough to head off catastrophic warming, the report issued this week says, and with the world already seeing increased storms, rising temperatures and record wildfires, the window to halt those trends will be closed in just a few years. 

This is a world problem. Which makes it a North Carolina problem

But for such a bleak and uncontested conclusion, the report, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tries to adopt an optimistic tone, at least in an accompanying press release.

Heat-trapping emissions over the last decade were “at their highest levels in human history,” the release begins, but the rate of growth has slowed and governments across the world have shown “increasing evidence of climate action.” And, it adds, several crucial sources of renewable energy, like solar and wind power, are as inexpensive as they’ve ever been.

Better still, both the release and the report say, the solutions will require no last-second inventions of new technology: Nations, individuals and the private sector already have all the tools they need to avoid the worst-case scenarios. The report, written by more than 270 scientists from 65 countries, is the third installment of the definitive account of climate changes’ effects and what must be done about it. 

Scientists long ago concluded that human-caused warming had pushed the Earth close to a specific temperature threshold (1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, if you’re curious) beyond which life as we know it would be impossible to sustain in large parts of the planet. And while the worst effects may not be felt everywhere in equal measure, there would be no escape from the effects of increased drought, flooding, hunger, heatwaves, crop failures, extinctions, and shortages of food and drinkable water. 

But you don’t have to look beyond North Carolina to see the danger.

Cost Is Relative

There is no doubt that saving the world from climate disaster will be expensive, but the cost is nothing compared to the price of inaction, this report – and really every report for the last twenty years – says.  The report estimates that the money currently being spent on fixing the problem is three to six times less than what is needed. 

But climate change is already costing companies, governments and homeowners trillions of dollars. 

According to a separate report from the National Centers for Environmental Information, climate-related disasters in North Carolina have amounted to between $50 billion and $100 billion in damages since 1980. And those costs often fall on people least likely to afford them.

Drought has cost the state between $5 and 10 billion in losses; flooding and wildfires between $5 and 100 million each; and severe storms, including hurricanes, between $5 and 10 billion.

The Center for Climate Integrity says that rising seas will cause more than $29 billion in damages over the next 20 years in just 10 coastal counties. 

A warming planet all but guarantees that each of these disasters will continue to get worse.

“Over the next 80 years, [North Carolina] can expect disruptive sea level rise, increasingly hot nights, and more days with dangerous heat and extreme rainfall unless the global increase in heat-trapping gasses is stopped,” a 2020 report from the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies says.

An EPA report last year said that while there is no escape from climate change, many of the most severe harms will fall on underserved communities who are the least able to do anything about it. 

Wealthy countries and households are by far the biggest source of planet-warming emissions, and will have to do the bulk of the work, namely moving away from coal, oil and other fossil fuel energy sources, and making huge investments in wind, solar and other renewable energy.  The good news, the report says, is that the biggest contributors to the problem are also in the best position to solve it.

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming,” Jim Skea, one of the authors of the U.N. report said in the news release. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”