The warnings of global scientists and the urgent action needed in the last few decades are well known, echoed around the world but repeatedly ignored.
The latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released this week – IPCC’s sixth assessment report on Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis – contains dire news in over 3,949 pages of analysis from over 14,000 scientific papers. “The scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole and the present state of many aspects are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years,” the IPCC wrote, along with other findings.
“The IPCC report ‘is a code red for humanity’. 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,” the UN Secretary-General António Guterres says in a statement. “It must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels before they destroy our planet. If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as the report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses.”
IPCC is the world’s leading authority on climate science, and its findings are fully endorsed by the world’s governments. There are 6 key sobering points in this report:
Climate crisis ‘unequivocally’ caused by human activities. Human activity is changing the Earth’s climate in ways “unprecedented” in thousands or hundreds of thousands of years, with some of the changes now inevitable and “irreversible”, climate scientists have warned. Humans are “very likely” (90%) the main driver of the global retreat of glaciers since the 1990s and the decrease in Arctic sea-ice; and are making floods and heatwaves worse as evidence in the record extremes that are often broken. Each of the past four decades has been warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850, and the world has experienced seven hottest years in recorded history since 2014.
Fossil fuel emissions have already irreversibly impacted the planet and will continue to affect us in the future. Only rapid and drastic reductions in greenhouse gases in this decade can prevent such climate breakdown, with every fraction of a degree of further heating likely to compound the accelerating effects.
Global surface temperature was 1.09°C higher in the decade between 2011-2020 than between 1850-1900. Within the next two decades, temperatures are likely to rise by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, breaching the ambition of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and bringing widespread devastation and extreme weather. According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), for 1.5°C of global warming, there will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons as well as changes in precipitation patterns affecting flooding and drought occurrences. At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health.
IPCC warns of extremely rare but catastrophic high impact events for the first time, suggesting that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), will very likely weaken by the end of the century. Climate scientist Niklas Boers, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, concluded that the AMOC is approaching a tipping point. If enough fresh water from melting polar ice enters the ocean, the current system will experience an “abrupt weakening,” and destabilize. This weakening would cause temperatures in Europe to fall, and “the cooling effect would be stronger the further north you go.”
The recent rate of sea level rise has nearly tripled compared with 1901-1971. Global sea level will continue to rise as mountain and polar glaciers continue melting for decades or centuries. Since 1750, greenhouse gas emissions have doomed the global ocean to future warming that will continue to intensify in the 21st century. This includes low oxygen zones in the oceans (deoxygenation), vertical changes in sea water density (upper stratification) and a decrease in the ocean’s PH value (acidification).
It is “virtually certain” that hot extremes including heat waves have become more frequent and more intense since the 1950s, while cold events have become less frequent and less severe.“ Not only have we seen more and longer heatwaves worldwide over the past 70 years, but this trend has markedly accelerated,” said Dr. Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes. The largest changes have occurred in lower-latitude locations and heatwaves and humid heat stress will be more intense and frequent during the 21st century all over South Asia.
In ‘A Troubling Observation About the Climate Report,’ CNN’s Fareed Zakaria shared the observation of James Temple at MIT Technology Review: ”To achieve the best-case scenario, reducing emissions won’t be enough. We’ll need to actively pull carbon out of the atmosphere. The IPCC includes a method called “bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS. Basically, it requires growing crops that consume CO2 and then using the harvested biomass to produce heat, electricity, or fuels, while capturing and storing any resulting emissions. But despite the billions and billions of tons of carbon removal that climate models are banking on through BECCS, it’s only been done in small-scale projects to date — and the necessary technologies barely exist.”
Governments that signed the Paris Agreement have been aware of the intensifying gravity of the climate we are changing from past IPCC reports, but their commitment to reach Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050 or later is both irrational and twenty years too late to ensure a stable planet. For decades, the delays, inaction, and dithering debate over the cost of climate action will eventually cost more money and more lives.
Many businesses who committed to rigorous sustainability and joined the ‘Race to Net Zero’ by 2050 are also too late. For the many business leaders that do little to nothing, not considering the climate at the core of their strategies, decisions and investments is not only irresponsible, it is risky and suicidal.
Our world must put a brake on carbon emissions and be Carbon Zero or better (Carbon Positive) before 2030 and avoid exceeding 1.5°Celcius.
In a 1990 IPCC report on Migration and Climate Change, Professor Myers noted that there has been a collective, and rather successful attempt to ignore the scale of the problem which is one of time (the speed of change) and scale (the number of people it will affect) and it is likely that the burden of providing for climate migrants will be borne by the poorest countries – those least responsible for emissions of greenhouse gases. He estimated the number on future flows of climate migrants to be a staggering 200 million. After thirty years of little to no effective action to lessen global carbon emissions, the recent IEP’s (Institute for Economic & Peace) terrifying estimate predicts at least 1.2 billion people could be displaced by climate-related events by 2050.
This is our ‘last chance decade’. It is no longer just about saving the planet, it is about saving ourselves. There is hope in hell and our actions in 2021 will determine if we have hope for a stable future as governments across the globe announced their recovery stimulus plans amounting to over $10 trillion.
Climate emergencies are accelerating, and it is a dangerous factor in global security as floods, fires and drought displace populations and famine and disease destabilize governments. “We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it,” Tanya Steele, Chief Executive at WWF said. “We need urgent action from our leaders and a new global deal for nature and people that kick starts a global programme of recovery.”
What can an individual do to boldly drive change NOW?
– Waste less. Build personal resilience and radically advance to a low carbon and sustainable lifestyle.
– Know you have power. with your wallet and your voice. Only support companies committed to sustainability with accountability and transparency that aim to be Carbon Positive before 2030 and support the Global Goals. For travellers, find these forces for good in the NOW Sustainability Tool.
– Support big movements that demand recovery programs address the climate emergency, collapsing ecosystems and deficits on social justice.
We still have hope, just. By year end 2021, how governments across the globe distribute their recovery stimulus budgets and the decisions reached during the UN Cop26 summit in Glasgow in November will determine if we have hope for a stable future.
It must be NOW!