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IPCC Sounds ĎCode Redí Alarm on Climate Crisis

The days of climate change uncertainty are behind us. In the latest set of reports from the world’s leading climate researchers, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that the scientific evidence of human influence on widespread and rapid warming is now “unequivocal.” 

All that remains uncertain is how much of the damage is irreversible, and whether we can muster the collective political courage to slow climate change before it’s too late. Failure to reduce emissions will create, in the words of one climate researcher, “hell on earth.”
 
Climate policies such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are crucially important because we still have a window of opportunity to slow the pace of warming. Failure to reduce emissions in the next few years will force upon future generations an environment that is very hot, wet and dangerous, barely resembling the world as we know it today.

The “Physical Science Basis” is the first release in a series of landmark summary findings to be rolled out in the next year. To develop the international body’s Sixth Assessment Report, hundreds of climate researchers reviewed all the relevant scientific literature published since 2013.
 
The IPCC assessment reached the following conclusions:

  • Humans are responsible for warming global surface temperatures by an estimated average of 1.07 degrees Celsius (1.9 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. 
  • Global climate change is due to a buildup of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, now reaching annual averages of 410 parts per million (ppm) for carbon dioxide (CO2), 1,866 parts per billion (ppb) for methane (CH4), and 332 ppb for nitrous oxide (N2O).
  • Concentrations of atmospheric pollution have reached historic highs. CO2 levels are higher than at any time in at least 2 million years, while methane and N2O are higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years. 
  • As a result, each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it, dating back to temperatures recorded in 1850.
  • Climate change is very likely compounding our risks of extreme events such as heatwaves, droughts, fire, and heavy floods, as well as intensifying global trends of sea level rise, ocean acidification, and glacial retreat.

Although the severity of climate change will be experienced unevenly around the world, no region will be totally unaffected. In the eastern half of North America, the assessment concludes that significant increases in heavy precipitation and flooding are both very likely, especially if current levels of emissions continue.
 
Essentially, the clock is ticking. We can release less than 500 additional gigatons of carbon dioxide — roughly equal to 10 years of current global emissions — if we want a decent chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). So far, we’re on pace to pass the 1.5-degree mark by the early 2030s.
 
In Pennsylvania, joining RGGI would cost-effectively mandate limits on carbon emissions by allowing electricity generation producers to cooperate with counterparts across the Northeast. To put RGGI into motion, the CO2 Budget Trading Program has been proposed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). But the program is still awaiting Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) approval, the current step in a 19-month (and counting) regulatory process.

While progress on joining RGGI is a welcomed development, the latest IPCC report makes clear that delay comes with serious consequences. Regulatory hurdles help polluting industries continue to profit while devastating climate change awaits.
 
On the federal level, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to combat climate change. The current version of the recently passed Senate bill would, if passed by the House of Representatives, upgrade our power infrastructure to better accommodate renewable energy, develop a national network of electric vehicle chargers, and support school districts with buying electric buses and building out the necessary charging infrastructure.  
 
Still, more is needed. The FY 2022 Budget Resolution Agreement being discussed in Congress has included proposals for a Clean Electricity Payment Program. If passed through reconciliation, the legislation would incentivize electric utilities to transition to 80-percent clean energy by 2030.
 
This kind of bold leadership is needed at every level of government and throughout the private sector. By now, each and every municipality, school district, business, and property owner in Pennsylvania needs to wake up to the realities of our climate crisis. Rather than wait and deal with the consequences, it is time to embrace readily available energy efficiency, clean electricity and low-carbon transportation options.
 
Transitioning to a clean energy future is necessary if we want to avert the worst outcomes of a warming climate. We simply do not have time to waste.

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