The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report on Friday declaring with 90 percent certainty that rising global temperatures are due to human activities. This assessment is significantly stronger than the international authoritative body’s 2001 report that pegged the probability at 60 percent.
The IPCC’s findings confirm what scientists have known for years: Global warming is real and is now caused primarily by humans. What makes the report groundbreaking is the definitive nature of the scientific and political consensus on climate change that it represents.
The report was swiftly followed by Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) and John Kerry (D-MA) reintroducing the aggressive Global Warming Reduction Act, which includes some policies advocated by experts at the Center for American Progress.
The bill requires the U.S. to freeze emissions in 2010 and then calls for a gradual reduction to 65 percent below 2000 emissions levels by 2050, provides immediate incentives for reducing emissions, requires that the U.S. derive 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and establishes a National Climate Change Vulnerability and Resilience Program to help communities assess their vulnerability to climatic changes and better prepare for any variations.
These provisions are urgently needed. The IPCC report predicts a sea-level rise of between seven and 23 inches and a temperature increase of between 3.2 and 7.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the next century. There is also more than a 1-in-10 chance of much greater warming, a catastrophic situation that most scientists say presents an unacceptable risk.
The new report—which is based on a survey of the peer-reviewed scientific literature from recent years—is a Goliath-sized endorsement for action like the Global Warming Reduction Act on the part of governments around the world, especially here in the United States.
Yet the Bush administration has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions. And conservatives have thus far been reluctant to even acknowledge the existence of human-caused climate change, at times going so far as to doctor scientific reports on the subject.
The world’s leading scientists have once again made clear the climate crises facing us. It is time the government enacted policy to respond to these urgent facts.
Next week, the House Science and Technology Committee will be the first congressional group to hear from scientists who worked on the report. Other committees have already held hearings on the importance of aggressive action to combat climate change. CEOs from some of the largest companies, members of the public, religious leaders, and scientists all support acting now. It’s time for a policy change in response to climate change.
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