UN climate report lead author: ‘How hot it gets is still up to us’

A sobering report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this week, placed the blame for global warming squarely on human activity. But while the report makes clear that the impact from rising temperatures will continue to worsen over the next three decades, a lead author of the study said "how hot it gets is still up to us."

Dr. Kim Cobb, a professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech University, told Yahoo Finance Live that current activity, and government actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions will have lasting consequences for the latter half of this century.

“One thing the report makes very clear is that this package of climate and weather extremes will get worse with each additional increment of warming that we let slip through our fingers,” she said. “We are looking at either an additional half a degree of Celsius to keep warming to 1.5 degrees, the most ambitious goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, or let it slip to 2 degrees Celsius or warmer. Each have that additional increment associated with the worsening of these climate impacts.”

The three-year analysis, based on more than 14,000 studies from around the globe brings added urgency to climate action, as global leaders and climate activists look to gather at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

Climate change is already wreaking havoc around the world, according to the report. The study ties rising temperatures to melting glaciers, intense rainfall, the rise of sea levels, and coastal flooding.

“Extreme sea-level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century,” the report said.

Ambitious climate goals

The UN warnings intensify pressure on the Biden administration and Democratic lawmakers to act on climate legislation, as the U.S. is the world’s second-largest carbon emitter. While the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the Senate this week includes investments in EV chargers and electric school buses, a separate $3.5 trillion budget, backed by Democrats, details more expansive action on climate, including a new tax on imported fuels tied to carbon emissions, federal aid for clean energy developers, and investments in low-carbon cars.

President Biden has already committed to slashing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least half of 2005 levels, by the end of this decade.

“The most ambitious goals that are outlined by the administration are consistent with achieving net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050,” Cobb said. “That is a critical benchmark outlined in this new report consistent with the most ambitious trajectory of reducing warming as much as possible to this century, and reserving the right to cool into the latter half of this century.”

Still, Cobb stressed the importance of the private sector in accelerating decarbonization. ESG (environmental, social, and governance) has become increasingly important pillars, by which investors judge companies, prompting major banks and asset managers to publicly declare sustainability as a key factor driving investments.

The percentage of asset managers required to invest in ESG products has nearly doubled in the last year, according to a report from EY. That number is expected to nearly double again in the next two years.

Meanwhile, the urgency of climate change has brought in a flood of capital to venture capital-backed climate tech companies. Global investors have already raised more than $14.2 billion worldwide this year, 88% of the total for all of 2020, according to data from Pitchbook. More climate-focused funds have closed in 2021 than the previous five years combined.

“Some of the most important advances that may come in helping us to accelerate action will come from public private partnerships,” Cobb said. “Their stakeholders and shareholders understand what the risks are that we face with ongoing climate change and articulate why it's important to their bottom line that we reduce the coming risks of climate change as well. All of these reasons are critically important motivators I hope, for the private sector to continue to up the ante and raise their ambitions to be a part of this transition and make it as fast as possible.”

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita

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