Prof. Natalie Mahowald is one of the 91 lead authors on a United Nations climate change report that warns about the dangers of increasing global temperatures.

October 11, 2018

Cornell Prof, Lead Author of U.N. Climate Change Report Hopes for ‘More Constructive Dialogue’ Globally

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A Cornell professor was one of 91 lead authors on a United Nations climate change report released Monday, which warned of the unprecedented measures the world needs to take to prevent global temperatures from increasing by 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Prof. Natalie Mahowald, Irving Porter Church Professor in Engineering, was chosen as a lead author by the U.N. out of around 1100 nominated candidates, she told The Sun. Over the past year and a half, Mahowald worked with experts across the world on the impacts of climate change and potential solutions.

“You’re lucky to be a native English speaker in this situation,” Mahowald told The Sun. “[The team] is people from all different countries and all different disciplines. The language barrier between disciplines is actually significant.”

During the writing process, all 91 authors met in person four times for week-long workshops. Mahowald was also a contributing author to the summary for policymakers, and had an additional two meetings. In between these in-person meetings, authors talked via phone.

“It felt like tons of deadlines. It was a huge amount of work,” Mahowald said. ““[The time difference] was insane. It was impossible. You sort of just had to be like ‘ok, so none of the Pacific people are gonna come because there’s no way [they’re awake].”

Since the report’s release, the European Union nations are seeking to reduce car emissions by 35 percent by 2030. The New York Times called the report “dire”. Mahowald thinks that the coverage on this report was greater than that of the 2013 climate change report.

In 2013, the UN released a climate change report, also warning the dangers of increased global temperatures. It estimated the rise in temperature and sea levels by the end of the century, and the human cause behind these changes. The report released Monday reflected more urgent calls to action than in 2013.

Still, Mahowald said that she wasn’t surprised by most of the report’s findings. The only significant new information, she said, was the work clarifying the impact of a a global temperature increase of 0.5 degrees Celsius and the resultant extreme effects on weather events.

However, Mahowald thinks the media attention is important and hopes that the report will lend more urgency towards addressing global warming.

“One of the goals [for the report] was to strengthen global response,” she said. “It would be great it if spurred a little more constructive dialogue about what we can do.”

Mahowald believes that with the current U.S. administration less likely to adopt substantial measures to combat climate change, domestic climate change efforts can occur at the non-national level, such as on a state, city and even individual basis.

On an individual level, Mahowald says that people need to reduce their energy use and think about their diets and its impact on a global scale. Beyond this, she thinks individuals can contribute by voting and encouraging Cornell University to “go forward” in environmentally-friendly efforts.

Cornell is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2035, meaning that the University aims to produce net zero carbon emissions in less than two decades.

“[Carbon neutral by 2035] is very aggressive,” Mahowald told The Sun. ““I’m hopeful [that it will happen]. I don’t think I’d go so far as likely. It’s really hard to cut carbon dioxide emissions, but we have do our best.”