In August, United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report that was compiled by 234 scientists from 64 countries. Since then, the report’s been called many things: Code Red for Humanity, a reality check, the starkest warning and so on.
These are all very fair titles. What sets this report apart is that it presents not just claims, but evidence. Evidence that is more accurate than ever before. It presents not only a grim futures, but a certain future. There is now scientific evidence, numbers, dates and timelines. And here is what they all say:
1. Firstly, IPCC who?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. The panel presents unignorable evidence, research and facts to support and propel climate change discussions.The said report is called Climate Change Working Group 1 report and UN Secretary General António Guterres talks about this report saying:
“If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as today’s report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses. I count on government leaders and all stakeholders to ensure COP26 is a success.”
2. The golden number: 1.5 degree celsius.
The 2015 Paris Climate agreement was signed by almost every country in the world where it was agreed that the global limit of global warming must not increase beyond a temperature rise of 1.5 degree celsius. This was considered a tipping point. Tipping points refer to an irreversible change in the climate system, locking in further global heating.
- The main takeaway from the IPCC report is that we are dangerously close to that limit at 1.1 degree celsius.
- The report confirms that are now on track to reach this limit in 2040 if not sooner.
- A rise in temperature not only brings more heatwaves and droughts but intense rainfall, flooding, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and more.
- The Arctic is likely to be practically ice-free in September at least once before 2050 in all scenarios assessed.
3. Humans caused climate change. It’s proven.
Another key finding of the report was proven evidence that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land. There is no grey area, no hiding behind it and no doubts. According to Prof Ed Hawkins, from the University of Reading, UK, and one of the report's authors, the scientists cannot be any clearer on this point.
"It is a statement of fact, we cannot be any more certain; it is unequivocal and indisputable that humans are warming the planet."
Image Credit: BBC
Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, said:
"By using sports terms, one could say the atmosphere has been exposed to doping, which means we have begun observing extremes more often than before."
Going into the details of the human impact, the report highlights that:
- The past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850
- The recent rate of sea level rise has nearly tripled compared with 1901-1971
4. Climate change is now. Not in the future.
With the global temperature reaching the limit sooner than expected, one of the key points that the report highlights is that climate change is no more a thing of the future. It is happening right now as we speak. Some of the shifts have already been set in motion now, while some - such as continued sea level rise – are already ‘irreversible’ for centuries to millennia. The oceans will continue to warm and become more acidic. Mountain and polar glaciers will continue melting for decades or centuries. And it’s crucial we save what’s left, and hope we can cause some reverse in the future.
5. If climate change is now, solutions need to happen now too.
The report states that to limit global warming, strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gases are necessary as well as the need for immediate, rapid, large-scale reductions in greenhouse gases. Mark van Baal, founder of Follow This, states that
“Oil major CEOs who claim to be part of the solution must, yet again, draw only one conclusion from this report: that they must cut their emissions immediately and drastically, not just by 2050.There is no longer time for a slow transition, the report is clear: every tonne of CO2 adds to global warming.”
6. But is there any hope left?
Science doesn’t only give us evidence of catastrophe but also measurable and actionable ways to avert it. Scientists are more hopeful that if we can cut global emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero by the middle of this century, we can halt and possibly reverse the rise in temperatures.But it’s not easy. Reaching net zero involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions, using clean energy, and burying any remaining releases using carbon capture and storage, or absorbing them by planting trees.
The way forward as in a press release from UN includes:
- There must be no new coal plants built after 2021.
- OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries must phase out existing coal by 2030, with all others following suit by 2040.
- Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil-fuel subsidies into renewable energy.
- By 2030, solar and wind capacity should quadruple and renewable energy investments should triple to maintain a net-zero trajectory by mid-century.
The report makes it more important than ever before for countries and governments to take big steps and take them now. The window for change is closing. It also emphasises on how every single bit counts. Every single emission is pushing us over the edge, and we can all do our bit by learning, pushing governments and picking better lifestyles.
Luckily the report comes just in time for the November's COP26 global climate summit and there is hope that it will lead to significant measures and decisions that will reroute our climate change journey.