Leaked UN Report: If We Don't Stop Polluting Now, We May Never Have The Technology To Save Ourselves

Coal PlantREUTERS/StringerThe sun is seen behind smoke billowing from a chimney of a heating plant in China.

A U.N. draft report, leaked to several news agencies on Thursday, says that countries need to slash greenhouse gas emissions and start investing in clean energies now if we want Earth to be liveable for future generations.

The atmosphere-cleaning technologies we have now will not be able to combat the greenhouse gas emissions that will accumulate during the next two decades, according to The New York Times.

In that devastating future, our only option will be to develop new ways to remove emissions from the atmosphere. These would be prohibitively expensive.

Here’s more from the Times:

Another 15 years of failure to limit carbon emissions could make the problem virtually impossible to solve with current technologies, experts found.

Delay would probably force future generations to develop the capability to suck greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and store them underground to preserve the livability of the planet, the report found. But it is not clear whether such technologies will ever exist at the necessary scale, and even if they do, the approach would probably be wildly expensive compared with taking steps now to slow emissions.

So far, any clean-energy gains made by investing in solar or wind power have been eclipsed by the increased burning of fossil fuels — mostly oil and coal — especially in counties like China, the world’s biggest contributor to climate change.

According to the Associated Press, the report said that greenhouse gas emissions grew by 2.2%, on average, between 2000 and 2010, compared to 1.3% each year between 1970 and 2000.

International leaders pledged at the 2009 Copenhagen conference to limit global temperature increases to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels, a target that would require carbon dioxide levels (the main greenhouse gas) to stay below 500 parts per million, according to the Times.

The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is currently just under 400 parts per million, but has been climbing rapidly since records began at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii (see chart). Carbon dioxide concentration was at 316 parts per million at the initial recording in 1958.

In order to keep concentration of carbon dioxide below 500 parts per million in this century, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 40% to 70%, based on what they were in 2010, would be required by 2050, the AP reported.

The draft is the last of a three-part summary on climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change. It’s their biggest report since 2007. The first part was released in September. The third segment should be published in April.

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