Humanity is unequivocally to blame for global climate change, and massive cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are urgently required if the world is to avoid catastrophic warming, according to a landmark report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published Monday.
The report’s findings were approved by 195 world governments in a virtual meeting last week. Over 200 scientists from across the world examined over 14,000 research papers to compile the IPCC report, the first major review of climate science since 2013. It will form the basis for upcoming talks at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26), scheduled to be held in Glasgow, Britain, October 31-November 12, where world leaders hope to commit to concrete policies on tackling global warming.
The IPCC report warns that global average temperatures will hit 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2030 on current trajectories, the limit agreed at the Paris climate summit in 2015 — and seen as a tipping point by many scientists. That’s 10 years earlier than previous forecasts.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the findings as "code red for humanity.”
'Unprecedented in thousands of years'
Ko Barrett of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who is also vice-chair of the IPCC, said the report underlines the urgency for global action.
“We've known for decades that the world is warming, but this report tells us that recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid and intensifying — unprecedented in thousands of years. For example, this report tells us that each of the past four decades has been the warmest on record since pre-industrial times,” Barrett told The Associated Press.
“Further, it is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change. Human influences are making extreme climate events, including heat waves, heavy rainfall and droughts, more frequent and severe. What's new in this report is that we can now attribute many more changes at the global and regional level to human influence,” Barrett added.
The report’s publication Monday coincides with extreme summer temperatures and drought in parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
In California, meteorologists warned that hot temperatures and high winds in the coming days would continue to fan the Dixie Fire, which is the second-biggest blaze in the state’s history. The fire destroyed much of the town of Greenville last week.
On the Greek island of Evia, residents fled their homes Sunday evening beneath a sky of burning red, as fires consumed pristine forests turned to tinder by searing summer heat.
Hundreds of intense forest fires are continuing to ravage parts of Greece, Italy and Turkey, forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents and vacationers. Temperatures in the region have topped 45 degrees Celsius in recent days.
“The Mediterranean will be having these forest fires all the time. Therefore, this is just the beginning. It’s going to get much worse,” said Professor Levent Kurnaz, a climate scientist at Bogazici University in Istanbul.
The report adds that sea level rises of up to 2 meters by the end of the century can’t be ruled out, threatening millions of people living in coastal areas. The Arctic is likely to see at least one ice-free summer by 2050.
Crisis can be prevented
But scientists emphasize there is a way out. The worst scenarios can be prevented, and global warming potentially reversed, with drastic cuts to global emissions.
“These aren’t just small changes we can make. These aren’t just sort of tinkering at the edges. These really mean wholescale changes of the way we use and consume energy,” IPCC report co-author Professor Bill Collins, a climate scientist at Britain’s Reading University, told VOA.
“Carbon dioxide is the main one which we need to get to zero-emissions by the middle of the century. But we’ve also shown that methane is an important gas to reduce. It’s caused maybe as much as half a degree (Celsius) of the warming we’ve already seen,” Collins added.
With the United States re-joining the Paris climate agreement this year under President Joe Biden, scientists hope there will be added momentum as world leaders gather in November for the global climate change summit in Britain.
U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said Monday that "all major economies must commit to aggressive climate action during this critical decade."
The IPCC report was commissioned and approved by world governments, "so, we’re providing what they want, what they say they need to make political decisions,” Collins said.