Saving the Planet

Major highlights from the IPCC report on climate change

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The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released today has been described as a “code red for humanity.”

If you heard the word “code red”, perhaps what comes to your mind is a medical emergency situation of a chronically ill patient or other types of emergencies like fire outbreak, terrorist activity, or mass casualties.

Whatever the scenario you picture is, the world is rushing headlong into a cataclysmic disaster, no thanks to climate change.

The most terrifying report so far, the new IPCC Working Group I report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis is the first installment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be completed in 2022.

The report reveals that scientists are observing changes in the Earth’s climate in every region and across the whole climate system.

Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, with some already set in motion. Here are some of the key highlights of the 2021 IPCC report:

Accelerated warming

The report provides new estimates of the chances of crossing the global warming level of 1.5°C in the next decades and reveals that unless there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.

The scale of several changes is also unprecedented over centuries and even millennia. Current levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are the highest in at least 2 million years and the last time the ocean warmed this quickly was when the last Ice Age ended.

And many of these changes across the climate system are irreversible over human timescales, such as changes to our oceans, ice sheets, and sea level.

Human activity on the climate is a major cause of change

The report shows that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming since 1850-1900. If nothing changes, over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming.

It states further “It is virtually certain that hot extremes- including heatwaves- have become more frequent and more intense across most land regions since the 1950s, while cold extremes have become less frequent and less severe, with high confidence that human-induced climate change is the main driver of these changes.

Some recent hot extremes observed over the past decade would have been extremely unlikely to occur without human influence on the climate system.”

Commenting on the report, IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte, said, “This report is a reality check. We now have a much clearer picture of the past, present, and future climate, which is essential for understanding where we are headed, what can be done, and how we can prepare.”

No region is spared

According to the report, many characteristics of climate change directly depend on the level of global warming, however, what people experience today is way different from the global average. For example, warming over land is larger than the global average, and it is more than twice as high in the Arctic.

As it stands, irrespective of a country’s wealth or development, climate change has no boundary. From the floods devastating China and countries in Europe and Africa to the wildfires that have gutted parts of the United States and more recently, Greece, the world is concerned and justifiably so.

The report projects that in the coming decades, climate changes will increase in all regions. For 1.5°C of global warming, there will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons, and shorter cold seasons.

Even worse, at 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health, the report shows.

Aside from global temperature, climate change is bringing multiple different changes in different regions which will all increase with further warming. Consider the following:

  • Climate change is intensifying the water cycle
  • Climate change is affecting rainfall patterns
  • Coastal areas will see continued sea-level rise throughout the 21st century
  • Further warming will amplify permafrost thawing, and the loss of seasonal snow cover, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and loss of summer Arctic sea ice
  • Climate change will cause changes to the ocean, including warming, more frequent marine heatwaves, ocean acidification, and reduced oxygen levels
  • For cities, some aspects of climate change may be amplified, including heat
Human actions are pivotal to the future course of climate

While the report confirms the role of human influence on the climate system, it also reflects major advances in the science of attribution.

It also emphasizes the role of climate change in intensifying specific weather and climate events such as extreme heat waves and heavy rainfall events.

In addition, the study also shows that human actions still have the potential to determine the future course of climate. The evidence is clear that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main driver of climate change, even as other greenhouse gases and air pollutants also affect the climate.

In the meantime, the report urges that the world needs to put forth efforts to stabilize the climate. This will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net-zero CO2 emissions at the least.

There’s also a need to reduce other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, as this could have benefits not only for the climate but for human health.

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