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Climate change may become nearly impossible to solve if not addressed soon, warns leaked UN report

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dirty emissions (shutterstock)
dirty emissions (shutterstock)

The window to stop climate change is quickly closing. A United Nations panel has found that failing to seriously address climate change for another 15 years could make the problem nearly impossible to solve, reports The New York Times. Addressing the problem at that point would require technology that does not currently exist and may not ever be feasible to create at a large enough scale, making aggressive actions over the next decade vital. The report, written by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, won't be published until after a final editing session in April, but the Times received a leaked copy from December that's unlikely to be dramatically changed.

High emissions need to be slowed by 2030

The report's findings are bleak. Despite a shift toward cleaner and more efficient energy in wealthier countries, those emissions are being outmatched by the growth of fossil fuels worldwide, reports the Times. In some cases, countries have partly been able to reduce their own use of fossil fuels because of an increased reliance on foreign commerce, effectively letting them outsource dirty energy as related jobs and production facilities move overseas. The report also finds, unsurprisingly, that the Kyoto Protocol has not been as successful as its drafters hoped, in part due to major countries such as the the US failing to ratify it.

According to the Times, the report finds that stopping climate change over the coming decade will still mean major economic and ecological damage — but it's far tamer than what could come down the road. The current goal is to limit global temperature increases to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. The hope is that by beginning now, economic and ecological effects will come on gradually, mitigating their impact.

Greenhouse gases may need to be sucked from the air

But that goal will reportedly become incredibly difficult to meet if high emissions growth isn't stymied by 2030. At that point, the Times reports that we'd be given the seemingly impossible task of sucking greenhouse gases out of the air and storing them underground. Some technology is already being developed to do this, but it's likely far more practical and far less expensive to just reduce emissions before that becomes necessary.

This report is the third in a series of UN climate change reviews. The first was released in September and found that humans are almost certainly to blame for climate change. The second is to be published in March, with a leaked draft showing that it that will find climate change to be a serious threat to the world's food supply over the coming decades. This third report will likely be the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's final one on the matter for another six years. The panel's findings have become increasingly dire, and it's clear that governments will have to act soon if they want to prevent its next report from having an even bleaker outlook.