Summary of Key Points from Latest IPCC Report
We need to both reduce our emissions from burning fossil fuels, and restore, protect, and expand nature's carbon sinks to achieve a net reduction of greenhouse gases overall. The following summaries highlights of the August 2021 AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis:
- Unprecedented Warming - In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years, and global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period in the last 2000 years or more. Global surface temperatures will continue to rise until at least 2050, even under the most rigorous emission reduction scenario.
- Each Additional Increment of Warming Matters - Changes in climatic extremes will get larger in frequency and intensity with each additional increment of global warming. Many of the changes we are seeing right now – hotter heatwaves, stronger storms, longer droughts – will become even more intense and destructive in direct proportion to increasing temperatures. These impacts, paired with food shortages, rising sea levels, a major reduction in coral reefs, and increased climate refugees will cause suffering and loss of human life.
- Nature’s Ability to Absorb CO2 Will Diminish - The ability of our planet’s natural systems (e.g., forests, oceans, wetlands, grasslands, prairies) to take up CO2 will decline as our emissions increase. These systems have absorbed the CO2 generated by the burning of fossil fuels and other natural processes. But they will not be able to absorb the same proportion of greenhouse gases as temperatures continue to rise.
- Technologies Are Under Development - Approaches capable of large-scale removal of CO2 are still in the research and development stage, or unproven at the scales of deployment necessary to achieve a net reduction in atmospheric CO2 levels.
- Many Changes to Earth’s Systems Are Irreversible - Changes in ocean temperature, glacial melt, loss of permafrost and sea level rise due to past and future emissions are irreversible for centuries or millennia.
- Thriving or Surviving? - Global surface temperature is very likely to increase from 1.0°C to 1.8°C by 2100 under even the very low GHG emissions scenario. With an intermediate emissions scenario, temperatures could increase as much as 2.1°C to 3.5°C. The very high emissions scenario projects even higher temperature increases, ranging from 3.3°C to 5.7°C. The difference between the low and high emissions scenario is the difference between the possibility of humanity thriving - or struggling to survive.
- It’s Up to Us - Without immediate action, we are headed for a world with catastrophic increases in flooding, recurring drought, rising ocean levels, and damaging storms all of which will have devastating social, economic and environmental effects.
Banner photo: Drought. Lake Mead. By Madison Buening, Pixabay
New IPCC Report
CODE RED for Humanity
In August of 2021, Working Group 1 of the IPCC issued another technical paper leading to the Sixth Assessment Report. Called ARS6 Climate Change 2021, the Physical Science Basis, this report is one of the most alarming of those prepared to date. The inescapable conclusion? The rate of warming is unprecedented. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the last decade (2011-2020) was the warmest on record. The warmest six years have all been since 2015, with 2016, 2019 and 2020 being the top three.
The report clearly says that this warming is due to human activities, putting to rest any notion that climate change is not human induced. According to the IPCC, emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming since the period from 1850 to 1900. And, all the IPCC’s emissions scenarios show it is likely the earth will experience a 1.5o to 1.6o temperature rise in the near term (between now and 2040). This means our climate will become even more volatile with increased heat waves, heavy precipitation, drought, food shortages, rising sea levels, a major reduction in coral reefs and increased climate refugees.
In a 2018 UN report, thousands of scientists and government reviewers agreed that limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C would help us avoid the worst climate impacts and maintain a livable climate. Yet, according to the IPCC’s latest report, carbon dioxide emissions could exceed 2.°C by 2060 under all scenarios and nearly 6°C under the very high GHG emissions scenario by the end of the century. The last time global surface temperature was sustained at or above 2.5°C higher than 1850–1900 was over 3 million years ago.
Keeping Global Temperatures
In December of 2020, the UN Environment Programme and its partners issued its Production Gap Report that identifies what needs to be done to keep temperatures at our below 1.5oC:
To follow a 1.5oC-consistent pathway, the world will need to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6% per year between 2020 and 2030. - SEI, IISD, ODI, E3G, and UNEP. 2020. The Production Gap 2020 Special Report
But, instead of reducing their reliance on fossil fuels, countries are planning and projecting an average 2% annual increase of fossil fuel production by 2030. This is more than double the production consistent with a 1.5oC limit.
If our global community does not succeed in slashing emissions as described in these reports, we are likely to lose the opportunity to preserve a habitable planet. This news should trigger an immediate, urgent call for action. The planet’s future – OUR future - is in our hands.