5 things we definitely should worry about in latest UN climate report

8 Oct 2018

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Scientists are describing a new climate report as a clarion bell for scientists across the globe, but what should we be most worried about?

A new report issued by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it abundantly clear that the time for talking is over and that immediate action needs to be taken to prevent a global disaster that could affect millions of lives.

The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius was approved this morning (8 October) after it was first proposed as part of the Paris Agreement in 2015. In terms of credentials, it is unparalleled, with 91 authors and 133 contributing authors from dozens of countries and more than 42,000 expert comments.

The document will now act as a game plan for signatories to the Paris Agreement in how it will be possible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the coming years, requiring rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.

To give you a sense of what’s at stake, here are five of the most disturbing facts and predictions to come from the newly published report.

Just half a degree more will be catastrophic

The authors of the report predict that by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10cm higher, with global warming of two degrees Celsius compared with 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Arctic Ocean would be one of the most dramatically affected, with the region likely to experience ice-free summers every decade, compared with every century if we limit to 1.5.

“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of one degrees Celsius of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Panmao Zhai, co-chair of IPCC Working Group I.

Coral reefs are threatened, even if we succeed

We have seen numerous reports about the irreparable damage being done to coral reefs across the world, with warming temperatures and pollution leading to mass bleaching in many parts of the world’s oceans.

In the event of a two-degree rise in temperature, the authors of the report estimate that almost all coral reef – 99pc – would be totally lost. Even if we are to achieve the target of 1.5, between 70pc and 90pc of our reefs will be lost.

Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of IPCC Working Group II, said: “Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems.”

Food will become even more scarce

Rising sea levels and temperatures will inevitably put even greater pressure on the production of food, with expectations that water stress would be 50pc greater with an increase of two degrees Celsius compared with 1.5.

But perhaps the greatest damage will be unleashed on the rest of nature, with insects directly caught in the firing line. Essential for pollinating crops, they will be more likely to lose half their habitat at two degrees than 1.5. Obviously, this would have a major knock-on effect for humans who require them to produce our food.

The required changes to our lives will be drastic

Jim Skea, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III, summed up the task at hand when he said: “Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics, but doing so would require unprecedented changes.”

These unprecedented changes will fundamentally challenge how business has been conducted for decades in a globalised world.

In order for us to keep to our target, global net human-caused emissions of CO2 will need to fall by about 45pc from the 2010 level by 2030. By 2050, the authors said that we would need to be producing almost no CO2 emissions at a time which, on the outset, would challenge rapidly growing economies such as China and India.

The report casts considerable doubt on the ability of carbon capture technology, saying that while it has improved considerably over time, its costs make it prohibitively expensive.

The US plans to pull out

Perhaps the most obvious omission from the new report is the fact that one of the world’s largest economies and industrial producers will likely decide not to follow these suggestions. Last year, US president Donald Trump shocked the world by saying that he plans on pulling the country out of the Paris Agreement.

“In order to fulfil my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord,” he said at the time.

He added that the US would begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris Agreement or a “new transaction” on terms more advantageous to the country.

As per the original Paris Agreement, this report is the first in a series, with the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, and Climate Change and Land set to be released next year.

Debra Roberts, co-chair of IPCC Working Group II, said: “This report gives policymakers and practitioners the information they need to make decisions that tackle climate change while considering local context and people’s needs. The next few years are probably the most important in our history.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic