We Have To Act Now To Avoid Climate Disaster, UN Report Warns

by: Lucy Jones | 11 months ago | News

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The effects of climate change are already upon us. This year alone record-breaking heat waves took place all around the world, wildfires raged in the Arctic Circle and hurricanes devastated parts of the United States. Other countries experienced catastrophic droughts and floods. Protected ecosystems have also been ravaged by rising temperatures. Since 2016, half of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef has died. According to a landmark report released by the UN last week, the impacts of climate change will worsen if we don’t act now.

“Rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” are needed if we hope to minimise the risks of climate change, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns in the comprehensive report. We have 12 years to implement such changes before the global average temperature becomes unmanageable.

The 195 countries that signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 committed to keeping the global average temperature “well below 2°C” and aiming to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. The IPCC report shows that reaching the higher figure of 2°C could be catastrophic for humans, animals and the environment. Human activities have already caused global average temperatures to rise by approximately 1°C. If this figure reaches 1.5°C the risks posed by climate change, such as extreme weather and poverty, could be managed. But if temperatures reach 2°C, the effects of climate change will spiral out of control.

“It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now,” Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the IPCC working group on impacts, told The Guardian. “This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.” 

The 6000 documents cited in the report outline a number of differences between the impacts of a 1.5°C and a 2°C global temperature. In a hotter world:

The number of people experiencing water stress will double.

Climate-related poverty will affect hundreds of millions more people.

Extremely hot days, heat-related deaths and forest fires will become more common.

Almost all of the world’s coral reefs will be lost. If the global temperature only rises to 1.5°C coral reefs will decline by 70-90% but if it reaches 2°C an estimated 99% of corals will die.

Global sea levels will be 10cm higher by 2100. This rise in sea levels will affect 10 million more people.

Artic Ocean sea ice will melt in summer once every decade. The likelihood of this event occurring decreases to once a century at a global temperature of 1.5°C.

Insects are twice as likely to lose their habitat.

Twice as many crops will be lost in the tropics.

The IPCC says governments need to make massive changes now to keep the world’s temperature below 1.5°C. “There is no documented historic precedent for the changes needed to prevent even worse disasters from coming," the report reads. In order to stick to the lower temperature, carbon emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030 and be brought down to zero by 2050. This means that polluting industries will need to be overhauled very quickly. The coal industry, which currently generates 40% of the world’s power, must only supply 7% of global electricity by 2050 according to the report.

“We have presented governments with pretty hard choices. We have pointed out the enormous benefits of keeping to 1.5°C, and also the unprecedented shift in energy systems and transport that would be needed to achieve that,” Jim Skea, a co-chair of the IPCC working group on mitigation, told The Guardian. “We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can — and that is the governments that receive it.”

The IPCC report gives scientific weight to something we all already knew: the climate crisis is upon us and the time for action is now. Instead of continuing to debate this problem, governments need to start tackling climate change from all angles. If they don’t, the consequences could be devastating for the planet and the people who live on it. 

Head here to read the IPCC climate change report in full.

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