In 1988 NASA scientist James Hansen warned lawmakers in the US Senate of the looming dangers presented by global warming, which humans were accelerating. In the same year the United Nations (UN) and the World Meteorological Organization (WHO) formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to report to world leaders on the science of climate change.
In 1990, the First IPCC Assessment Report (FAR) was published, underlining the importance of climate change as a challenge with global consequences and requiring international cooperation. It was followed by the 2nd (1995), 3rd (2001), 4th (2007) and 5th (2013-2014) with the 6th due in 2022.
On December 12, 2015 in Paris at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21, the now-infamous Paris Agreement was written with an objective to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. It entered into force on November 4, 2016 by which time it had been ratified by 55 countries (accounting for 55% of global emissions). Within the following two years 197 countries — every nation on earth — signed on, including the U.S.
Unfortunately in the summer of 2017 President Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement. That takes effect on November 4, 2020.
In 2020, many reports focused on the economy as it pertains to climate change, such as Mobilizing for a Zero Carbon America: Jobs, jobs, jobs, and more jobs from Rewiring America, Congress’s Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America, and Central banking and financial stability in the age of climate change from the Bank for International Settlements.
2020 also featured several reports on sea level rise, like Nature’s humbling Projections of global-scale extreme sea levels and resulting episodic coastal flooding over the 21st Century, and the effects of flooding. First National Flood Risk Assessment from the First Street Foundation.
Already by August, 2020 saw reports on food security and nutrition, water management, the plastic pollution of our oceans, climate induced migration, and disease. There was a critical one on the dangers of the growing demand for cooling, as our world warms — both through the leaking of HFCs and other refrigerants, and through emissions of CO2 and black carbon from the mostly fossil fuel-based energy powering air conditioners and other cooling equipment.
A note of real optimism came from The Goldman school of Public Policy in Berkeley, California: Assuming we take some real action “the U.S. can achieve 90% clean, carbon-free electricity nationwide by 2035, dependably, at no extra cost to consumers, and without new fossil fuel plants. On the path to 90% over the next 15 years, we can inject $1.7 trillion into the economy, support a net increase of more than 500K energy sector jobs each year, and reduce economy-wide emissions by 27%. This future also retires all existing coal plants by 2035, reduces natural gas generation by 70%, and prevents up to 85,000 premature deaths by 2050. But without robust policy reforms, this future will be lost.”