The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report overnight warning that unless there are “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”, the global climate will continue to encounter harmful consequences.
The IPCC report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, found that over the next 20 years, global temperatures are expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming - meaning we can anticipate increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons, and intensifying rain and floods.
“This report is a reality check,” IPCC Working Group I co-chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte said.
“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.”
Adopted in 2015, the Paris agreement has aimed to limit global warming to well below 2.0°C - preferring the target of 1.5°C. However, the IPCC report projects the earth will reach 1.5°C of global warming halfway through 2034.
While strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change, it could take 20-30 years to see global temperatures stabilise.
Providing a glimmer of hope, the report shows that human actions still have the potential to determine the future course of the climate.
“Stabilising the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions," IPCC Working Group I co-chair Panmao Zhai said.
"Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate.”
In the scenario the earth warms by 1.5°C, heatwaves would increase, while cold seasons would be shortened.
At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health more frequently.
The IPCC warns that climate change is bringing different changes to different parts of the world, including an intensifying water cycle - resulting in more rainfall, flooding, and drought.
Coastal areas will continue to experience rising sea levels throughout the 21st century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas.
By the end of the century, extreme sea-level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year.
Further warming will see the loss of seasonal snow cover, the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and the loss of the summer Arctic sea ice.
These findings are the first instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be completed in 2022.
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