A Hot Future: Insights from the Climate Change Report
How do you feel about the U.N.'s climate change report?
The recent spate of deadly wildfires, floods, and record-breaking temperatures seemed to suggest that climate change is very real and very intense.
Now, a team of international scientists has confirmed it.
A major report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says our failure to curb fossil-fuel emissions has led to “widespread and rapid changes” in every region of the world. Worse, some of the impacts are irreversible.
Here are five insights from the report, and what we can do to prevent things from getting worse.
The Heat Is On
The world has already warmed 1.1°C (2°F) since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Now, the IPCC report warns it’s likely to exceed 1.5°C - one of the goalposts of the 2015 Paris climate agreement - within the next 20 or 30 years—even if greenhouse gas emissions fall significantly.
Environmental dangers mount with every degree of global warming, resulting in an increasing number of heatwaves and severe droughts.
Expect the demise of myriad animal and plant species, as well as some coral reefs, which sustain fisheries for large swaths of the globe.
Images: Professor Ed Hawkins / University of Reading
Seas Will Rise
Even with a 1.5°C (2.7°F) of warming, ocean levels are projected to rise another foot or two this century, regularly flooding coastal cities.
If the world is unable to stem the tide of fossil fuel emissions and temperatures continue to climb, vast ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland could destabilize, which could add another 3 feet of sea-level rise during this century.
Climate experts have long worried that the earth could be more sensitive to carbon dioxide than they thought. In the last report, back in 2013, this ranged from 1.5°C to 4.5°C, with no best estimate.
This time around, the panel was able to refine their projections and conclude that the planet is likely to warm between 2.5°C and 4°C for every doubling of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. More certainty means more accurate predictions, according to the report.
Time For Action
Approved by 195 governments and based on some 14,000 studies, the IPCC report will be a focal point when diplomats gather in November at a UN COP26 summit in Glasgow to discuss how to bolster efforts to reduce emissions.
With this report - which is far stronger, clearer, and more confident than previous iterations - the topic will have a sense of urgency it hasn’t had before. In recent years, environmental campaigners in Ireland and the Netherlands have successfully forced governments and companies to act on the science of climate change. If politicians don’t step up, the courts might.
Climate Change Is Not A Lost Cause
There’s a short window to stop things from getting worse, say researchers. They call for a coordinated effort among countries to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by around 2050. That entails a rapid shift away from fossil fuels starting immediately, as well as potentially removing vast amounts of carbon from the air.
The IPCC report makes it somberly clear: we need to combat climate change.
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