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Draft U.N. Climate Report Says Most Fossil Fuels Should Stay in Ground

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Both the United Nations and the World Bank are reiterating warnings about the cost, both environmental and economic, of not heeding the signs of climate change.

Climate change, in particular global warming, is having an impact already across the globe, says a draft of the next U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which is due out on November 2 but was sent to some news outlets in advance of its line-by-line review by world leaders. The review “could change substantially,” The New York Times noted, between its current version and final release, but the underlying message is the same.

Warming’s effects are already evident on “all continents and across the oceans,” said Bloomberg news in quoting a draft it obtained. If the same practices of releasing heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere continue, there will be an increased likelihood of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” Bloomberg said, quoting the report.

“Using blunter, more forceful language than the reports that underpin it, the new draft highlights the urgency of the risks that are likely to be intensified by continued emissions of heat-trapping gases, primarily carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas,” The New York Times said. “The report found that companies and governments had identified reserves of these fuels at least four times larger than could safely be burned if global warming is to be kept to a tolerable level. That means if society wants to limit the risks to future generations, it must find the discipline to leave a vast majority of these valuable fuels in the ground, the report said.”

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Many countries, while pledging to reduce carbon emissions, are doing the complete opposite by increasing coal consumption, The New York Times noted. For instance, China consumes half the world’s coal and shows no sign of slowing down.

The United Nations warns of irreversible damage being wrought as we speak, outlining both the damage to crops, people and health as well as the economic costs of waiting to act, which could be considerable.

“The 127-page document includes a 32-page summary and is filled with language highlighting the dangers from rising temperatures,” Bloomberg reported. “Those include damage to crop production, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and more pervasive heatwaves. The report mentions the word ‘risk’ more than 350 times; ‘vulnerable’ or ‘vulnerability’ are written 61 times; and ‘irreversible’ comes up 48 times.”

The U.N. draft comes just after the World Bank released a report at a conference in Australia warning of profound food system disruption within a decade because of climate change, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

"The challenges from waste to warming, spurred on by a growing population with a rising middle-class hunger for meat, are leading us down a dangerous path," said Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group Vice President and special envoy for climate change, to the annual conference of the Crawford Fund, an Australia-based think tank that works to raise awareness on food policy. "Unless we chart a new course, we will find ourselves staring volatility and disruption in the food system in the face, not in 2050, not in 2040, but potentially within the next decade.”