‘A reality check’: IPCC says climate crisis is impacting every region

9 Aug 2021

California wildfires as seen from the Golden Gate Bridge last year. Image: © bennymarty/Stock.adobe.com

While the IPCC spelled out the disastrous climate effects of inaction, it also highlighted that ‘the power is in our hands’ to make necessary changes.

The climate crisis is affecting every region around the world as human activity is changing the climate system in unprecedented and sometimes irreversible ways, according to a new UN climate science report.

In the first in a new set of reports on the climate crisis, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted the devastating long-term effects of greenhouse gases, particularly CO2, on our climate.

It estimated that unless there are immediate and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as outlined in the 2015 Paris agreement, will be “beyond reach”.

“This report is a reality check,” said Valérie Masson-Delmotte, French climate scientist and co-chair of the latest IPCC report. “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.”

‘Affecting every region on our planet’

The IPCC is the United Nations’ climate-science-focused organisation and it last released a report in 2013.

The particular focus of this report (the first of four) was the physical science of the climate crisis. The report did not conduct new research but instead reviewed more than 14,000 studies of current literature. It featured 234 authors from 66 countries, of which 28pc were women.

It is a significant report because computer speed and climate modelling have greatly developed since the 2013 assessment, and because scientists have a greater understanding of climate systems and how specific regions are impacted.

Regional focus was emphasised in the report, comprising a large portion of its advice and technical explanations. The IPCC’s reports are particularly geared towards policymakers to facilitate decision-making and adaptation to evolving weather patterns at local levels.

It includes an interactive atlas that allows users to make changes and observe what sort of future could be in store for their country. The intention of this is to allow those going through the report to not only read about the potential changes but to see them on-screen.

‘It is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change and making extreme weather events more frequent and severe’

“First, [the report] tells us that it is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change and making extreme weather events more frequent and severe. Second, it shows that climate change is affecting every region on our planet,” said Hoesung Lee, the IPCC chair.

“Lastly, it explains that strong, rapid sustained reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions will be required to limit global warming.”

The reported emphasised that limiting global heating through the reduction of CO2 and methane would have other effects, such as the improvement of air quality in many parts of the world.

“We know that CO2, carbon dioxide, is the key greenhouse gas driving climate change. We know it comes from the most part from the burning of fossil fuels,” added Masson-Delmotte.

“This report reaffirms that there is near-linear relationship between the cumulative amount of emissions of CO2 in the atmosphere from human activities and the extent of current and future warming. This is physics. This means the only way to limit global warming to is reach net-zero CO2 emissions at the global scale.”

In response to a question asking if the report leaned on the side of “least drama”, Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said: “I think as citizens and as businesses and as governments, we are well aware of the drama.

“The expression of what the science says is exhibited before our very eyes, and of course what this excellent report does is project these scenarios outwards and tell us if we do not take action what could be the potential outcomes, or if we do take action, what will be a very good outcome. So the power is in our hands at this point.”

Among some of the figures included in the report were that CO2 concentrations in 2019 were the highest in at least 2m years, the fastest rates of rising sea were recorded in at least 3,000 years, the Arctic Sea ice was at its lowest in at least 1,000 years and there is unprecedented glacial retreat of at least 2,000 years.

‘Code red for humanity’

The IPCC report was described as “a code red for humanity” by UN secretary general António Guterres.

“The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk,” he said. “Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.”

In Ireland, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan, TD, said the report highlighted that “the window of time to stabilise our climate is closing”.

He noted that the Government recently passed the Climate Act, which commits to carbon neutrality by 2050 at the latest, and will soon publish the Climate Action Plan 2021, which will set out the measures needed to reach 2030 targets.

“These steps will be challenging but they will also create new opportunities,” Ryan added. “All countries must play their part. The COP26 conference in November will be a critical juncture, where we must also agree solutions to support the most vulnerable in the world who face unprecedented climate extremes.”

The IPCC report was presented this morning (9 August) via livestream on YouTube.

Sam Cox was a journalist at Silicon Republic covering sci-tech news