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News articles describe heightened IPCC urgency

A leaked Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is said to use the word irreversible 48 times.

At mid-day on 26 August, the New York Times posted online Justin Gillis’s article “Greenhouse gas emissions are growing, and growing more dangerous, draft of UN report says.” The leaked draft comes from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Gillis begins by emphasizing the panel’s contention that emissions growth “is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of ‘severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.’”, working from its own leaked copy of the 127-page report, posted an article at about the same time. Early articles also appeared on the website of ABC News, which said it worked from a copy obtained by the Associated Press, and at The Hill, which reported derivatively from the Times piece. By late afternoon, news articles were proliferating.

Early paragraphs in Gillis’s piece summarize:

Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human-produced emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control.

The world may already be nearing a temperature at which the loss of the vast ice sheet covering Greenland would become inevitable, the report said. The actual melting would then take centuries, but it would be unstoppable and could result in a sea level rise of 23 feet, with additional increases from other sources like melting Antarctic ice, potentially flooding the world’s major cities.

Gillis stipulates that the draft only restates, albeit with “blunter, more forceful language,” what recent IPCC reports have already said, and that it will evolve between now and “early November, after an intensive editing session in Copenhagen.” contacted an IPCC spokesman:

Jonathan Lynn, a spokesman for the IPCC, declined to comment on the contents of the report. The draft “is still a work in progress, which will certainly change--indeed that is the point of the review--and so it would be premature to discuss its contents at this stage,” Lynn said.

Bloomberg apparently also conducted a quick linguistic-statistical analysis, revealing that the draft report mentions the word risk more than 350 times, versions of the word vulnerable 61 times, and the word irreversible 48 times.

Gillis observes that political efforts worldwide, according to the leaked draft, are “being overwhelmed by construction of facilities like new coal-burning power plants that will lock in high emissions for decades.” He notes that the report warns that although emissions are declining in the West, the declines don’t compensate for rising emissions elsewhere.

He sums up:

The draft report found that past emissions, and the failure to heed scientific warnings about the risks, have made large-scale climatic shifts inevitable. But lowering emissions would still slow the expected pace of change, the report said, providing critical decades for human society and the natural world to adapt.


Steven T. Corneliussen, a media analyst for the American Institute of Physics, monitors three national newspapers, the weeklies Nature and Science, and occasionally other publications. He has published op-eds in the Washington Post and other newspapers, has written for NASA's history program, and is a science writer at a particle-accelerator laboratory.

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