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What It Would Take To Avert The Dire Situation Described In The U.N. Climate Report


A new climate report commissioned by the United Nations paints a pretty dire picture for the year 2040 - high food shortages, wildfires, droughts, rising sea levels, poverty and massive destruction to coral reefs.

Previous research predicted these effects if the Earth warms by 2 degrees Celsius. But this report finds the consequences could actually come much sooner, when the Earth warms by 1 1/2 degrees Celsius, which is on track to happen in just about 20 years.

The U.N. included data from over 6,000 scientific studies. And one of those studies came from the nonprofit think tank Climate Interactive, where Andrew Jones is the co-founder. Welcome.

ANDREW JONES: Thank you. Thank you, Ailsa.

CHANG: So let me just make this clear. This report is predicting, really, the same consequences of climate change that previous reports have been predicting. But this report says these consequences will happen sooner.

JONES: Yeah, that's the basic idea. And when I read it for the first time, I was struck with the urgency. And they really laid out with such precision the here and now element of this problem. It's not do it for the grandkids. So many of these effects that you just mentioned hit around 2040. Ailsa, I think you and I plan to be here around 2040.

CHANG: I certainly do.

JONES: Yeah. So this is the kind of here and now impacts that the scientists were writing about.

CHANG: So what would it take to avert this? I mean, this report is saying we basically have a deadline coming up in about 20 years. Are real changes feasible within that time frame?

JONES: Absolutely. Like this - you hear some of those studies, and it makes you think, gosh, I just want to hide under the covers and watch some Netflix, if you know what I mean.

CHANG: Seriously.

JONES: But if you think about it, facing this kind of impossibility is really, to some extent, what humans were made for. And the report lays out really well, if we are willing to take on the kind of efforts that we have in the past - and humans have done it, Ailsa - ending World War II, flying to the moon...

CHANG: Yeah.

JONES: ...Rebuilding Europe after the plague took out a third of us.

CHANG: I mean, that's exactly what I was going to point out. You wrote an op-ed in The New York Times the other day in which you compared this seemingly insurmountable task of confronting climate change to things like winning World War II or achieving civil rights. But was that supposed to be reassuring, because you do make the challenge seem awfully daunting?

JONES: (Laughter) Well, it is daunting. And we get to kind of remember our humanity and what we have pulled off in the past - these amazing things where humans have faced impossibility.

And the scientific report laid out really well what we get to do, and it's no silver bullet. It is this mix of clean energy and wind and solar and pricing carbon and energy efficiency and walkable, bikeable communities, plant-based diets. It's that kind of all across the board. No silver bullet but silver buckshot - all of these actions together.

So this is the big, challenging, end World War II task in front of us. I think we're up to it. And the report says if we did it all, we could technically reach that goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C.

CHANG: But that raises the question of political will. As you say, this requires buckshot in all different directions. But President Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris accord. The front-runner in Brazil's election says, if he wins, he will do the same. So what if the global community just doesn't have the political will to take meaningful action in time?

JONES: Yeah. It's important to note the extent to which the kind of opposition to climate action that we're seeing here in the U.S. It really is a U.S. phenomenon. We don't see that. And it's really not about individual action, but it would take collective action - senators voting, running for office. That's what it's going to take is that kind of collective, societal pulling together.

CHANG: Andrew Jones is the co-founder of the nonprofit think tank Climate Interactive. Thank you very much.

JONES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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