New Study Shows Global Warming May Push Temperatures Past Threshold for Human Survival


india-heat-wave
 

If we don’t cut greenhouse gases, it’s not just storms and rising seas we’d have to worry about. The heat alone could kill a lot of us.

If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, rising temperatures and humidity wrought by global warming could expose hundreds of millions of people worldwide to potentially lethal heat stress by 2060, a new report suggests.

The greatest exposure will occur in populous, tropical regions such as India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. But even in the northeastern United States, as many as 30 million people might be exposed at least once a year to heat that could be lethal to children, the elderly, and the sick, according to the new study.

It’s the first study to look at future heat stress on a global basis, says Ethan Coffel, a PhD candidate in atmospheric sciences at Columbia University, who presented the results on Monday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. Coffel and his colleagues used climate models and population projections to estimate how many people could face dangerous heat in 2060—assuming that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise sharply on a “business-as-usual” course.

The findings are based on forecasts of “wet bulb” temperatures, in which a wet cloth is wrapped around a thermometer bulb. Whereas standard thermometer readings measure air temperature, a wet bulb measures the temperature of a moist surface that has been cooled as much as possible by evaporation.

That reading depends on both the heat and the humidity of the surrounding air. It’s generally much lower than the dry-bulb temperature, and it’s a better indicator of the humid heat that humans and other large mammals find hardest to deal with.

The normal temperature inside the human body is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 37 degrees Celsius. Human skin is typically at 35°C. When the wet-bulb temperature of the air exceeds that level, it becomes physically impossible for the body to shed its own metabolic heat and cool itself, especially by evaporating sweat. Even a fit individual would be expected to die from such heat within six hours.

Today, even in Earth’s hottest, muggiest spots, the wet-bulb temperature does not rise above 31°C. (The highest dry-bulb temperature ever recorded is 56.7°C, or 134°F.)

But a study published in October by MIT researchers found that by 2100, in Persian Gulf cities such as Abu Dhabi or Dubai, the 35°C threshold of human survival may occasionally be exceeded—again, assuming that greenhouse emissions continue to rise unabated.

Where Heat, Humidity, and People Intersect

In practice, wet-bulb temperatures below the 35°C threshold are dangerous for children, the elderly, people with heart or lung problems—or anybody actively working outside. By the 2060s, according to Coffel and his colleagues, 250 million people could be experiencing 33°C at least once a year. As many as 700 million could be exposed to 32°C. For many people, those conditions could be lethal.

“You have a large portion of the world that’s very densely populated and potentially at risk,” says Coffel. “Populations which right now work primarily outdoors and have very little access to air conditioning. It’s hard to function outdoors in those kinds of temperatures.”

The MIT study concluded that wet-bulb temperatures of 32°C or 33°C could be expected to arise later this century in Mecca, for example, where they might sometimes coincide with the Hajj, when millions of pilgrims pray outdoors all day long.

But as rising temperatures push more moisture into the atmosphere, particularly near warming oceans, spells of extreme heat and humidity will become more frequent and intense in many parts of the world. Even residents of cities like New York and London could encounter future temperatures that are near the limits of what their bodies can tolerate, according to the Columbia researchers.

“Local ocean temperatures can be a really big driver for the extent of these high heat and humidity events,” says co-author Radley Horton of Columbia. “How far inland away from the coasts will we see some of these really deadly high heat and humidity events penetrate? Will this impact where people are able to live?”

Bryan Jones, a postdoctoral fellow at the City University of New York who also studies future heat exposures but was not part of the Columbia study, said its “projections of exposure to extreme heat stress seem very reasonable. In fact, they may even be conservative, depending on how populations in West Africa, India, and Southeast Asia are distributed in the coming decades.”

Heat Is Already A Big Killer

Heat already kills more people than any other form of extreme weather. In the past decade, heat waves that featured wet-bulb temperatures between 29°C and 31°C have caused tens of thousands of deaths in Europe, Russia, and the Middle East.

Last summer more than 2,300 died from extreme heat in India, where air temperatures reached 122°F. High humidity and temperatures topping 116°F also proved deadly in Egypt this year. And work stopped for several summer days in Iraq while thermometers hovered around 120°F.

Air conditioning protects those who have access to it and can afford it. The spread of high-heat-stress events is likely to produce a surge in demand, says Horton. Air conditioners don’t function as efficiently in humid conditions, however—and as long as the electricity for them is generated with fossil fuels, they add to the underlying problem.

The other approach to coping with dangerous heat, Coffel says, is “reorganizing your society, like when you work outside, like giving people the day off when it’s hot.”

Neither air-conditioning nor staying inside is an option for other large mammals, which are affected by climbing heat and humidity in much the same way as humans. The impact on them is a “wild card,” says Horton. Little research has been done.

 

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Hot Takes: The Top Climate Change Reporting of the Past Year


An iceberg melts in Kulusuk, Greenland near the arctic circle. (John McConnico/AP)

An iceberg melts in Kulusuk, Greenland near the arctic circle. (John McConnico/AP)

A compilation of some of the best journalism in the months leading up to Barack Obama’s historic action to address climate change.

Last week, President Obama unveiled the Clean Power Plan, a pillar of his legacy project and his most ambitious exercise of executive authority to combat climate change. The proposed regulations are designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by almost a third from 2005 levels within the next 15 years. The potential for the biggest climate change victory in years follows a banner year for climate change journalism. We’ve compiled some of the best stories:

How Climate Change Will End Wine As We Know It

BuzzFeed, November 2014

Harvest of Change

Des Moines Register, September 2014

Iowa farmers are facing pressures from all sides to do something about climate change, and even those who don’t believe in it are being forced to respond. The federal government wants to prevent fertilizers used on Midwestern farms from flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. Big box retailers want protection against price shocks. Meanwhile, Iowa farmers seek to protect their land from increased rain, which causes erosion and strips nutrients from the soil. Acting on all these pressures can be costly and, sometimes, detrimental to production.

Inside the War on Coal

Politico, May 2015

An army of Sierra Club lawyers who appear at obscure state and local hearings in the Midwest – where small commissions debate the future of individual coal plants – has managed to shut down one coal plant every 10 days for the past 5 years thanks to the unlikely funding of large corporations. The spirit of the funders, however, has little to do with environmental concern and a lot to do with the escalating costs of producing coal, a result of the government’s ever-tougher environmental regulations.

Coal Crash: How Pension Funds Face Huge Risk From Climate Change

The Guardian, June 2015

Some of the world’s largest pension funds – including those of organizations like the United Nations, which advocate for urgent action to prevent climate change – have historically invested generously in coal companies. But now those investments, which used to produce handsome returns, could collapse.

The Making of a Climate Change Refugee

Foreign Policy, January 2015

After Ioane Teitiota, a native from the sinking island nation of Kiribati in the South Pacific, sought a work visa extension in New Zealand, his lawyer argued that Teitoiota was a victim of climate change in need of permanent refugee status. The campaign was ultimately unsuccessful but drew significant international attention to the reality and potential effects of rising ocean levels.

Exxon’s Gamble: 25 Years of Rejecting Shareholder Concerns on Climate Change

Inside Climate News, June 2015

Oil companies have long fought against anyone who demands change based on apocalyptic predictions of climate change, including their own investors. In fact, over the past 25 years, top executives at Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips battled a combined 113 proposals from activist investors that ranged from adding board members with climate change expertise to establishing ceilings for greenhouse emissions. Not a single proposal passed.

The Shoking Climate Threat Nobody’s Even Talking About


Arctic baffin_bay_jpg_size_xxlarge_promo

There is a crucial factor to have in mind while reading this and any other information about recent and  forthcoming disasters:
With regard to Arctic, there are several countries (USA, Canada, Norway, Russia, Denmark) eager, impatient and looking forward to the melting of the arctic ice in order to exploit the oil and gas -no matter what science, official reports, common knowledge and public opinion say.
They have already raised claims.
If you are interested, I included a few links.

By Chris Mooney, Washington Post, 06 April 15

When we think about the Arctic in a warming world, we tend to think about sharp declines in sea ice and — that powerful symbol — the polar bear. But that’s far from the only problem that a melting Arctic brings.

In the past decade, scientists have been training more attention on another deeply troubling consequence. Rapid Arctic warming is expected to lead to the thawing of a great deal of frozen soil or permafrost, which, as it thaws, will begin to emit carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere. And if this occurs in the amounts that some scientists are predicting, it could significantly undermine efforts to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, scientists have discovered a simple statistic that underscores the scale of the potential problem: There may be more than twice as much carbon contained in northern permafrost as there is in the atmosphere itself. That’s a staggering thought.

Permafrost is simply defined as ground that stays frozen all year round. There’s a lot of it – it covers 24 percent of the surface of the northern hemisphere land masses, according to the International Permafrost Association. But more and more of it is thawing as the Arctic warms, and these frozen soils contain a vast amount of organic material — largely dead plant life — in a kind of suspended animation.

“It’s built up over thousand and thousands of years,” says Robert Max Holmes, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. “It’s all stored away in a freezer, and as we’re warming the Earth, and warming the Arctic, it’s starting to thaw.”

As permafrost thaws, microbes start to chow down on the organic material that it contains, and as that material decomposes, it emits either carbon dioxide or methane. Experts think most of the release will take the form of carbon dioxide — the chief greenhouse gas driving global warming — but even a small fraction released as methane can have major consequences. Although it doesn’t last nearly as long as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, methane has a short-term warming effect that is many times more powerful.

Among the potential mega-problems brought on by climate change, including melting ice caps to the slowdown of the ocean conveyor system, permafrost emissions are unique. For it’s not merely about sea level rise or weather changes — it’s about amplifying the root problem behind it all, atmospheric carbon levels.

The emission of carbon from thawing permafrost is what scientists call a “positive feedback.” More global warming could cause more thawing of Arctic permafrost, leading to more emissions of carbon into the atmosphere, leading to more warming and more thawing of Arctic permafrost — this does not end in a good place.

Moreover, in a year in which the world will train its attention on Paris and the hope for a new global climate agreement, permafrost emissions could potentially undermine global climate policies. Even as the world starts to cut back on emissions, the planet itself might start replacing our emissions cuts with brand new carbon outputs.

All of this, and the Arctic permafrost problem hasn’t received much attention — yet. “The concept is actually relatively new,” says Kevin Schaefer of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “It was first proposed in 2005. And the first estimates came out in 2011.” Indeed, the problem is so new that it has not yet made its way into major climate projections, Schaefer says.

“None of the climate projections in the last IPCC report account for permafrost,” says Schaefer. “So all of them underestimate, or are biased low.”

To understand why northern soils contain so much carbon it helps to understand why southern or tropical soils don’t. It all comes down to temperature, and how that affects how quickly microorganisms break down dead organic material (plant and animal life), causing it to release its carbon back into the atmosphere.

In temperate latitudes, it’s simple: Plants grow and pull carbon dioxide from the air — then they die, decompose and emit it back again. “In warmer temperatures, microbial activity will go on over all of the year,” says Vladimir Romanovsky, a permafrost researcher at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. “So even if productivity in warmer climates [is] larger, there’s not much sequestration of carbon in the soil.”

But in permafrost regions, it’s very different. Plants grow much more slowly, and there are fewer of them — but their decomposition is also much slower, explains Romanovsky. So a large amount of organic material gets stored in the frozen ground. And this has been happening, in some cases, over tens of thousands of years since the last ice age, leading to a truly vast carbon store that is stuck in place — or, at least, it used to be.

“As long as the carbon stays frozen in permafrost, it’s stable,” says Schaefer. “It’s kind of like broccoli in your freezer. But if you take that out, it eventually thaws out and goes bad.”

The problem, in this case, is the size of the freezer. Just consider some basic numbers. According to a 2013 report from the National Academy of Sciences, northern permafrost contains 1,700 to 1,850 gigatons of carbon — a gigaton is a billion metric tons — which is more than double the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere (730 gigatons, says the NAS). And over 1,000 of those gigatons are thought to be stored in the top three meters of permafrost soil.

Nobody’s saying all of that is going to come out — certainly not immediately, and maybe not ever. However, as the Arctic continues to warm over the course of the century, emissions from permafrost could ramp up, and they could eventually reach a scale that could begin to offset climate gains. “It’s certainly not much of a stretch of the imagination to think that over the coming decades, we could lose a couple of gigatons per year from thawing permafrost,” says Holmes.

So far, permafrost emissions, if any, are pretty small. But by 2100, the “mean” estimate for total emissions from permafrost right now is 120 gigatons, says Schaefer. That’s no small matter, considering that according to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Academy of Sciences (see above), the world can only emit about 1000 total gigatons of carbon if we want to have a good chance of limiting the temperature rise to less 2 degrees Celsius of warming since 1860-1880.

According to the IPCC, the world had already emitted 515 gigatons by 2011, leaving a pretty tight remaining carbon “budget.” Permafrost emissions, if they’re big enough, could lead to busting the budget a lot quicker.

The world has been focused on some Arctic emissions problems lately that sound a lot like the thawing permafrost emissions problem, but should probably be distinguished from it. For instance, there is the concern about weird craters that have been found in northern Siberia, and the idea that these might be the result of methane explosions from permafrost.

While there’s still debate over how the craters were formed, though, it’s not clear that we’re talking about the same phenomenon. One reason? The craters are very far to the north in the area around the Yamal Peninsula, and that’s not where the thawing permafrost emissions problem is expected to first emerge. Rather, it should be the opposite — at the southern rim of where permafrost is found.

“The further south you go, the warmer it is, so the more vulnerable the permafrost is to thawing,” says Schaefer. “So all the emissions will be dominated by the southern margins, southern Alaska, Hudson Bay.”

Nonetheless, the craters have gotten vastly more media attention — because they’re mysterious, and because they’re thought to reflect dramatic methane explosions. But ultimately, the steady, long-term problem of carbon loss from permafrost may be scarier.

Later this month — on April 24 — the United States takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, a group of eight nations with Arctic territories that helps to coordinate policy for the region. The State Department has specifically indicated that one of the focuses of the two-year chairmanship will be the issue of climate change. So, will permafrost emissions enter into policy considerations?

“This is a dangerous feedback loop as Arctic warming drives permafrost thaw, and the permafrost releases more GHGs into the atmosphere, accelerating change,” said a State Department official. “However, many questions remain about the processes by and time scales over which such emissions could be released into the atmosphere.”

The official said that through the Arctic Council, the United States will emphasize better monitoring and observation systems to detect emissions from permafrost. But the officials also underscored the importance of “an ambitious international climate agreement in Paris – this is where we need action to slow climate change.”

The concern is whether such an agreement will arrive soon enough to stop or at least blunt the permafrost problem. It’s “a true climatic tipping point, because it’s completely irreversible,” says Schaefer. “Once you thaw the permafrost, there’s no way to refreeze it.”

Source: Reader Supported News

Read Also: Territorial claims in the Arctic
Canada’s claim to Arctic riches includes the North Pole
Parliament of Canada – The Arctic: Canada’s Legal Claims
EUCOM Should Lead U.S. Combatant Commands in Defense of National Interests in the Arctic

NYT – Who Owns the Arctic

UN Agrees Way Forward on Climate Change but…


Lima COP20

… Path Is Unclear

A global warming pact has been struck, but now nations must not only meet targets but fund clean development

By Nicholas Stern, Guardian UK

15 December 14

Governments took a step back from chaos in the climate change discussions in Lima and found a way forward on Sunday, albeit with some fudges and compromises, giving themselves just 12 months to finalise a crucial international agreement to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Peru’s environment minister, who had skilfully presided over more than two weeks of fraught negotiations, announced that a deal had been struck by more than 190 countries.

The five pages of text, dubbed the Lima Call for Climate Action, outline a way forward on hotly contested issues, including the process for countries to set out their pledges to cut annual emissions of greenhouse gases after 2020.

The overall aim remains the creation of an international agreement on climate change which is due to be settled at the next UN summit, COP21, to be held in Paris in December 2015.

Without a successful outcome in Paris it is unlikely the world can avoid a rise in global average surface temperature of more than two degrees celsius, which is recognised as a threshold beyond which the risks of climate change are likely to become unacceptably large.

Countries will be expected by spring 2015 to announce “intended nationally determined contributions”, including domestic targets for emissions reductions and plans to increase resilience against the impacts of climate change that cannot now be prevented.

Four years ago in Cancún, Mexico, nations recognised the dangers of warming exceeding the 2C increase and more than 100 governments gave national pledges to reduce emissions, by 2020, accounting for more than 80% of the annual output of greenhouse gas pollution.

Although the cuts, if delivered, would slow down the rate of increase in annual global emissions, the Cancún targets were not ambitious enough. Nevertheless they were still a significant step forward after the chaotic and inconclusive discussions in Copenhagen in 2009, which only produced an accord, though it did provide the basis for the Cancún agreements.

The road to Lima began in Durban, South Africa, in December 2012, when governments decided to try again to hammer out an international deal, setting themselves a three-year deadline. Now, with just 12 months left, the talks in Lima mean that there is a draft negotiating text for the Paris summit.

But there are still significant stumbling blocks on the road to success. Perhaps the biggest challenge is that governments are unlikely to outline cuts in annual emissions that will be collectively consistent with a path that gives a good chance of remaining below the 2C danger limit of two degrees.

So countries must focus on increasing the ambition of their intended reductions, and show these are credible by setting out how they will be achieved through domestic policies and legislation.

But they must also recognise that such increases may not be sufficient, and a mechanism must also be included in the Paris agreement which commits countries to continuous reviewing and strengthening of their emissions targets.

One reason this is so difficult is the dispute over the concept of “common but differentiated responsibility” – which means each country’s action reflecting its historical contributions to raising cumulative levels of greenhouse gases, and also its wealth.

Developing countries believe the rich countries have not shouldered a fair share of the burden and should lead by example, in terms of cutting emissions and also providing financial support to poorer nations.

In Cancún the rich countries agreed that they should provide extra funds from public and private sources to help developing countries, a sum rising from about US$10bn to $100bn a year by 2020. But the rich countries have barely kept this promise, and have largely re-labelled parts of their overseas aid budgets to achieve progress.

While the creation of the Green Climate Fund to administer parts of the funding has important symbolic value, it is in danger of distracting from the most important issue.

Over the next 15 years as much as $4tn (£2.5tn) a year will be invested in the emerging and developing countries for infrastructure, such as roads and buildings. It is this investment that must be transformed. If it is, economic growth can be strong, cleaner, less congested, more efficient, more biodiverse – sustainable and much more attractive.

If these investments lock countries into high-carbon economies with dirty growth, powered by fossil fuels, the world will not be able to reach its climate target of avoiding warming of more than two degrees.

And the developing countries will also experience greater air pollution, which already takes millions of lives each year and damages the economies of many countries, including China and Germany. All this on top of waste, inefficiencies and energy insecurity.

So while rich countries should honour the funding pledges they made in Cancún it is even more important they support and help transform the investment of that $4tn into clean, sustainable, infrastructure.

The rich countries also have so much to gain domestically from such similar transformations, and in so doing will create powerful examples for themselves and others.

Over the next 20 years the world has the chance to embark along a better path of economic growth that gives a much greater chance of managing climate change and overcoming poverty than the old high-carbon route.

In this way, rich and developing countries can get equitable access to sustainable development, which should be the key aim that drives each country over the next 12 months on the road from Lima to Paris.

Source: Reader Supported News

Also Read: Lima Climate Change Talks End With Watered-Down Deal That Kicks Can Down the Road

5 Terrifying Facts From the Leaked UN Climate Report


How many synonyms for “grim” can I pack into one article? I had to consult the thesaurus: ghastly, horrid, awful, shocking, grisly, gruesome.

This week, a big report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was leaked before publication, and it confirmed, yet again, the grim—dire, frightful—reality the we face if we don’t slash our global greenhouse gas emissions, and slash them fast.

This “Synthesis Report,” to be released in November following a UN conference in Copenhagen, is still subject to revision. It is intended to summarize three previous UN climate publications and to “provide an integrated view” to the world’s governments of the risks they face from runaway carbon pollution, along with possible policy solutions.

As expected, the document contains a lot of what had already been reported after the three underpinning reports were released at global summits over the past year. It’s a long list of problems: sea level rise resulting in coastal flooding, crippling heat waves and multidecade droughts, torrential downpours, widespread food shortages, species extinction, pest outbreaks, economic damage, and exacerbated civil conflicts and poverty.

But in general, the 127-page leaked report provides starker language than the previous three, framing the crisis as a series of “irreversible” ecological and economic catastrophes that will occur if swift action is not taken.

Here are five particularly grim—depressing, distressing, upsetting, worrying, unpleasant—takeaways from the report.

1. Our efforts to combat climate change have been grossly inadequate.
The report says that anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase from 1970 to 2010, at a pace that ramped up especially quickly between 2000 and 2010. That’s despite some regional action that has sought to limit emissions, including carbon-pricing schemes in Europe. We haven’t done enough, the United Nations says, and we’re already seeing the effects of inaction. “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history,” the report says. “The climate changes that have already occurred have had widespread and consequential impacts on human and natural systems.”

2. Keeping global warming below the internationally agreed upon 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (above preindustrial levels) is going to be very hard.
To keep warming below this limit, our emissions need to be slashed dramatically. But at current rates, we’ll pump enough greenhouse gas into the atmosphere to sail past that critical level within the next 20 to 30 years, according to the report. We need to emit half as much greenhouse gas for the remainder of this century as we’ve already emitted over the past 250 years. Put simply, that’s going to be difficult—especially when you consider the fact that global emissions are growing, not declining, every year. The report says that to keep temperature increases to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, deep emissions cuts of between 40 and 70 percent are needed between 2010 and 2050, with emissions “falling towards zero or below” by 2100.

3. We’ll probably see nearly ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean before mid-century.
The report says that in every warming scenario it the scientists considered, we should expect to see year-round reductions in Arctic sea ice. By 2050, that will likely result in strings of years in which there is the near absence of sea ice in the summer, following a well-established trend. And then there’s Greenland, where glaciers have been retreating since the 1960s—increasingly so after 1993—because of man-made global warming. The report says we may already be facing a situation in which Greenland’s ice sheet will vanish over the next millennium, contributing up to 23 feet of sea level rise.

4. Dangerous sea level rise will very likely impact 70 percent of the world’s coastlines by the end of the century.
The report finds that by 2100, the devastating effects of sea level rise—including flooding, infrastructure damage, and coastal erosion—will impact the vast majority of the world’s coastlines. That’s not good: Half the world’s population lives within 37 miles of the sea, and three-quarters of all large cities are located on the coast, according to the United Nations. The sea has already risen significantly: From 1901 to 2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.62 feet.

5. Even if we act now, there’s a real risk of “abrupt and irreversible” changes.
The carbon released by burning fossil fuels will stay in the atmosphere and the seas for centuries to come, the report says, even if we completely stop emitting CO2 as soon as possible. That means it’s virtually certain that global mean sea level rise will continue for many centuries beyond 2100. Without strategies to reduce emissions, the world will see 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming above preindustrial temperatures by the end of the century, condemning us to “substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, [and] consequential constraints on common human activities.”

What’s more, the report indicates that without action, the effects of climate change could be irreversible: “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

Grim, indeed.
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Climatechangeplanet comment:
It’s  both sad and alarming that no one (except the usual few) has paid attention to all the previous (five I think) reports of the IPCC. And it’s absurd that states like Canada, Norway and others, see the melting of the arctic ice only as an opportunity to exploit the fossil fuels, indifferent to the consequences.

Relative articles: https://climatechangeplanet.wordpress.com/?s=IPCC