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Attempts to stop catastrophic climate change are proving futile, says UN report

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Government efforts are no match for runaway greenhouse emissions

A draft of a new UN report seen by The New York Times warns that our planet is at risk of "severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts" if the world's governments don't quickly alter their course and do more to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases. The report, drafted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says that we are already nearing a temperature at which the ice sheet covering Greenland is expected to begin melting — an unstoppable process that could raise global sea levels by 23 feet and bring other extremes of climate including heat waves and torrential rain.

Climate change could be limited to the internationally-agreed 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) according to the report, but if political delays continue for a decade or more, the process would be impossible without what The New York Times calls "severe economic disruption." The average global temperature has already increased by around 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit on pre-industrial levels, a process that has reduced harvests in some countries.

Government schemes to reduce emissions have been outpaced by the construction of power plants

The report notes that political efforts to combat climate change in some parts of the world have been growing in strength, with local and regional administrations such as those in California and New York often leading the way. But attempts to implement country-wide emissions policies have been stymied in many of the world's largest economies. In the US, President Obama has tried to impose national limits on greenhouse gases, but his policies face fierce opposition at all levels of government.

Large-scale climatic shifts are inevitable

Those anti-emissions policies adopted by world governments are decreasing the amount of harmful gas emitted in some countries, but the report warns it's not enough when developing nations produce more gases than limited political controls can remove. Emissions in most Western countries are falling as economies find new sources of electricity, but the drop is being counter-balanced by the construction of new power plants and factories in developing countries such as China. The scale of industrialization means that despite political efforts, the rate of emissions is growing. Between 1970 and 2000, global emissions of greenhouse gases rose 1.3 percent year on year. Between 2000 and 2010, as China grew in economic stature, that rate jumped to 2.2 percent a year.

The IPCC says the world's governments need to heed scientific warnings and adopt wide-ranging legislation now to save us from catastrophic climate change, but it's already too late for us to avoid any impact: according to the report, large-scale climatic shifts are inevitable.