AILSA CHANG, HOST:
A new report commissioned by the United Nations paints a dire picture of what climate change could do to the Earth - more wildfires, droughts, food shortages, massive destruction to coral reefs. And this report says that could all happen by 2040, sooner than previously thought. It comes as more world leaders question the effectiveness of the Paris climate accord, a landmark deal signed in 2015.
Despite all that, geography professor Bill Solecki sees reason for optimism. He's one of the authors of this report. And I asked him to first explain the report's mandate.
BILL SOLECKI: It's to assess whether or not the goals of the Paris Agreement are potentially achievable. And the results of the assessment illustrate that they might possibly be.
CHANG: The assessment as to what in particular?
SOLECKI: As to whether or not there is the infrastructure and physical systems available to slow the rate of climate warming so that we only exceed or reach 1.5 degrees warming above the baseline level.
CHANG: One of the authors of this report says the next few years are probably going to be the most important in our history when it comes to climate change. Why is that? What needs to happen in just the next few years?
SOLECKI: Well, the window of opportunity is open. And with that, we need to act in a way to lessen the likelihood of more significant warming and more significant impacts. There's a clear evidence that action now could forestall greater impacts in the future.
CHANG: And what kind of action? Give me some examples.
SOLECKI: Well, the report speaks about potential transitions in a range of different systems that we have developed - energy systems, transport systems, food supply - so things like considering food consumption patterns; thinking about the carbon footprint of one's food; things like - even as obvious, potentially, as increased use of electric cars or other, you know, less polluting modes of transport; even the question of lifestyle in terms of commuting patterns and trying to sort of understand the broadly defined impacts of one's actions.
CHANG: But are any of these changes feasible within the next two decades?
SOLECKI: Based on the literature that we assessed, yes. There's an increasing mobilization. I mean, the client for this report were the nation-states. That being said, subnational groups - you know, nonstate actors, even cities, states, provinces, international organizations and even local - have engaged in this discussion. And I think that it's in that context of widespread engagement where the possibility for collective action emerges.
CHANG: Well, is the engagement wide enough and intense enough? Because the question now is political will. President Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris Accord. The front-runner in Brazil's election now says if he does win, he will do the same, which is important because that would involve the Amazon. So what political leadership is left to make these massive changes your study says are absolutely necessary?
SOLECKI: My response - certainly, there is international leadership in many quarters. But also, this is not a question that is going to disappear. It is a question that will continue to press because the issues are present and growing. I think what we're starting to see, as well, is increasing appreciation from a variety of other sectors that have influence over the role of national governments - I mean, the private sector, as example. You know, we seen many different corporate entities and companies engaging in the question as well.
CHANG: Bill Solecki is a professor of geography at Hunter College in New York.
Thank you very much.
SOLECKI: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.