The environmental story of the year went largely undiscussed in the presidential-election campaign, but it was the proverbial elephant in the room, one that started trumpeting as the year drew to a close.
No fewer than three major institutions, from different quarters—the Central Intelligence Agency, the World Bank and the United Nations—released reports warning of dire scenarios associated with climate change.
The World Bank, using current climate-change models, estimated a 7.2-degree Fahrenheit (4°C) temperature rise by the end of the 21st century, with a potentially devastating impact. This includes parts of the United States as well as in the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East increasing 4.3 degrees in temperature, Mother News Network reported. The November 16 report also predicted sea levels’ rising on the coasts of Mexico, Indian, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Mdagascar, the Philippines and Vietnam. It would also inundate island nations, rendering them uninhabitable, the report said.
In addition, the World Bank said, the ocean would become more acidic, making survival difficult for coral, which would threaten biodiversity and food sources. Also affecting food security would be drought, which could hit 44 percent of global cropland, and water, which could be hard to come by in parts of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, Mother Nature Network said.
"A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided—we need to hold warming below 2°C," World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said when the World Bank released Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided on November 16, 2012. "Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest."
Those who do not feel morally compelled to care can turn to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) report, which came out a bit earlier than the World Bank’s document. The CIA detailed ways in which U.S. national security would be compromised by climate change.
Hurricane Sandy, which delayed the report’s release by 10 days, provided a perfect example of what the report was talking about, the study’s main author, John D. Steinbruner, told The New York Times.
“This is the sort of thing we were talking about,” he said. “You can debate the specific contribution of global warming to that storm. But we’re saying climate extremes are going to be more frequent, and this was an example of what they could mean. We’re also saying it could get a whole lot worse than that.”
Sandy killed dozens, shut off power to millions and caused gasoline and other shortages for days. The report detailed ways in which climate change could lead to more such conditions, in turn fueling instability within governments and international conflicts between countries, which in turn could necessitate U.S. intervention. Overall, the report said, the U.S. is not prepared to deal with such drastic situations and changes.
“It is prudent to expect that over the course of a decade some climate events—including single events, conjunctions of events occurring simultaneously or in sequence in particular locations, and events affecting globally integrated systems that provide for human well-being—will produce consequences that exceed the capacity of the affected societies or global system to manage and that have global security implications serious enough to compel international response,” said the report, Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis, which the CIA commissioned from the National Research Council.
The United Nations put a finer point onto the discussion its announcement on November 20, 2012, that 2011 saw greenhouse gases reach a record high concentration in the atmosphere. In the 2011 Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that the warming effect of the high concentration of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, among other greenhouse gases, had increased by 30 percent between 1990 and 2011.
The WMO was talking not about current emissions, but about the gases that have been retained by the atmosphere. Since 1750, which is when the industrial revolution roughly began, 375 billion metric tonnes of carbon from mostly fossil fuel emissions have been released into the atmosphere, and half of it has stayed there.
“These billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on Earth,” said WMO's Secretary-General, Michel Jarraud, in a statement. “Future emissions will only compound the situation.”