TOPICS > Science > Coping with Climate Change

UN panel warns dire threats of climate change may spin ‘out of control’

March 31, 2014 at 6:09 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The new U.N. report on climate change is full of serious warnings and predictions of what’s to come. But it’s also especially sobering about what’s already happening around the globe. It was written by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, a group of hundreds of scientists and other experts, the latest in a series of reports being released this year.

Intense heat waves that feed fires, wiping out forests and homes, prolonged droughts that damage food and water supplies for billions of people, and sharply higher costs for farmers, consumers and businesses alike, it’s all laid out in today’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, meeting in Yokohama, Japan.

RAJENDRA PACHAURI, Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: The one message that comes out very clearly is that the world has to adapt and the world has to mitigate. And the sooner we do that, the less the chances of some of the worst impacts of climate change being faced in different parts of the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The authors say, absent that action, the effects of global warming may get out of control. The IPCC is pressing for a global agreement next year on curbing carbon emissions.

And in a statement yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry endorsed that idea. “Unless we act dramatically and quickly,” he said, “science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. Denial of the science is malpractice.”

Even so, there are a few voices urging restraint. Dutch economist Richard Tol removed his name from the document last week, saying it paints too stark a picture.

RICHARD TOL, Professor of Economics, University of Sussex: But what the report forgets to say is that even though climate change may reduce crop yields by 2 percent per decade, at the same time crop yields are going up by 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent per decade, due to technological change, so it’s not the case that climate change will cause life-threatening famine. Instead, climate change will mean that crop yields will go up more slowly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Obama administration has moved to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and autos, but faces an uphill battle in Congress, and among the American public, if it tries to implement a broader climate agenda.

Separate polls last year, by the Pew Research Center, found more than two-thirds of Americans believed the Earth is getting warmer. But only one-third saw government action as a priority.