SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
More than 200 of the world's leading climate scientists are kicking off an important virtual meeting today. They will spend the next two weeks summarizing how the Earth's climate has changed and what the future might look like. It's happening at the same time many parts of the world are being gripped by extreme weather linked to climate change, from flash floods in Europe and Asia to lethal heat waves in Africa and North America. NPR's Rebecca Hersher is here to talk more about it. Hey, Rebecca.
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Hey.
MCCAMMON: What is the goal of this meeting?
HERSHER: So these scientists are serving on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and that's part of the United Nations, and they're finalizing this really important report. So they've been poring over all the climate research published through January of this year - so that's thousands of studies about Earth's atmosphere, its oceans, its forests, its weather patterns. And their goal is to summarize all that research into one report that governments can use to understand two things - one, the scientific consensus about how the climate has already changed; and what the rest of the century will look like. You know, how quickly is the Earth heating up? What does that mean for hurricanes and fires, for sea level rise, for droughts?
MCCAMMON: Some really big, really important questions. Now, this isn't the first time these scientists have met like this, but it's been a while, right?
HERSHER: Yeah, exactly. So this is the sixth edition of this report. The last edition came out in 2013, which is an eternity in the world of climate science because global warming is accelerating, and advances in climate modeling and other climate research are also accelerating, you know, trying to keep up with the urgency of the moment and make sure humans have the knowledge they need to tackle this problem. So this report, the sixth edition, it will be a crucial document. The authors hope that it will inform, basically, the next decade of climate policy - things like how quickly we reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
MCCAMMON: How does a scientific report like this one help governments actually make big decisions? I mean, will the scientists explicitly tell world leaders what they should do when it comes to public policy?
HERSHER: No. So that is the tricky part - the scientists won't make recommendations about specific policies. Like, you won't see a bullet point in this report that says stop burning coal right now, even though that would obviously reduce greenhouse gases. And that's because the scientists - the role of scientists is to make sure that governments understand how policies like burning coal are affecting the Earth, and then it's up to governments to lead humanity through this energy transition.
MCCAMMON: So, Rebecca, how do scientists help governments do that exactly?
HERSHER: So in this report, they're using five scenarios. They're kind of, like, imaginary policy worlds. For example, there's a scenario where countries around the world work together to develop cheap, low-carbon technologies, and then they make them available to everyone. But then there's another scenario where nationalism surges and governments kind of turn inward and really focus on local energy options. And it's important to say, under most of these scenarios, it is still possible to keep global warming below the 2-degree Celsius threshold. That's what the Paris agreement is aiming for. It's just a matter of how.
MCCAMMON: So these scientists are synthesizing a lot of complex information. How long will it take for them to release their big report?
HERSHER: So they've already been working on it for years, is the good news. So it's in pretty good shape. There are already 12 chapters. They're drafts. And they just need to hash out the final draft. That will take about two weeks. Usually it only takes one week, but the scientists are doing this meeting virtually, so it'll take a lot longer. And at the end of those two weeks, on August 9, they will release this report to the public. So stay tuned.
MCCAMMON: We certainly will. That's NPR's Rebecca Hersher from the climate team. Thank you, Rebecca.
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