Global warming is occurring at a faster pace than scientists thought: UN panel

A United Nations panel warns that global warming is occurring at a faster pace than scientists thought, according a new report released Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The report states it might be impossible to reach the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, that sought to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius above the pre-industrial levels prior to the 1850's.

"Climate change is already affecting people, eco-systems, and livelihoods all around the world," said Hoesung Lee, the IPCC chair.

The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees Celsius was written by 91 scientists from 40 countries. It states the world is already on track to surpass that limit as soon as 12 years from now if carbon emissions are not severely and immediately curbed. 

"This is really showing that we're seeing much worse effects much sooner than we previously thought were going to happen," says Ethan Elkind, the Climate Program Director at UC Berkeley's School of Law. 

"Every year pretty much in the last few decades has been the hottest year on record we've just seen this really starting to take off in terms of temperature rise worldwide," said Elkind.

He adds that the report shows a new urgency to take action, not just elsewhere, but also in California which is already at the forefront in the United States in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Here in California we're doing okay with about 40 percent renewables but they're talking about 60 to 70 percent renewables globally. They're talking about essentially eliminating all coal-fired power plants as a source of electricity," said Elkind.

Elkind says California could see the effects of higher temperatures, through exacerbated wildfire dangers, increased risks of drought and impact on agriculture in California's central valley and wine country. 

"A lot of those grapes are not going to survive in a warmer climate and we're seeing wineries moving farther north growing varietals that used to grow at much different latitudes," said Elkind.

Even slight temperature increases can also mean bigger hurricanes and more flooding.

"Reduced that when precipitation falls right here in California in the Sierra, instead of coming down as snow, it's coming down as rain which leads ot flooding," said Elkind, adding that polar icemelt also can raise sea levels, threatening areas such as California's coast and San Francisco Bay, "We have our airports that are at sea level...SFO and Oakland, we've got major highways, like the Bayshore Freeway, Interstate 80, parts of 101." 

Vivian Huang with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network recently helped residents in affordable housing get access solar panels. She says there have also been residents who've experienced the negative side of poor air quality and pollution here in the Bay Area.

"As we've seen in a lot of the recent climate disasters it's often the people who are low income, who maybe are not proficient in English, who face other barriers, such as transportation that are facing the worst impacts and the worst outcomes from these climate disasters," said Huang.

Experts say individuals can take small steps that can make a difference.

"Everything from solar panels, to electric vehicles, to just making sure you have energy efficient appliances in your home, LED lightbulbs," said Elkind, "The consumer choices you make are important."

For more information, including links to the IPCC reports, click here.