Net Zero

The IPCC Report: The Final Straw For Humanity

A summary of the latest report from the IPCC
Jack Kennedy
5 mins

This month, the latest IPCC report outlined the current status of climate change and its effect on the planet. The 2021 Report makes it clear that we need to act quickly to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

What is in the IPCC report?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is one of the leading bodies on science-backed policy recommendations. With support from the UN and hundreds of climate scientists, the Working Groups release reports which summarises all scientific findings on climate change.

The IPCC has found that anthropogenic warming is around 0.8-1.3 degrees Celsius from 1850-2019. This is dangerously close to the 1.5°C limit that environmentalists have set to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

The increases in droughts, heatwaves, precipitation, and cyclones can all be attributed to climate change, affecting every place on Earth inhabited by humans. With the continued rise in greenhouse emissions, these effects are set to increase in severity and frequency in the coming decades.

So what is the main takeaway?

There are three main takeaways from the report 1) human beings are unequivocally causing climate change 2) we are heading towards a 1.5°C warming faster than expected, and 3) if we continue on this path the results will be devastating.

The IPCC describes 10-year events for heatwaves, heavy precipitation, and droughts as severe events that, before 1900, would happen every 10 years. These events are currently happening at 2.8, 1.3, and 1.7 times more frequency, respectively. For example, under the 1.5° C scenario, 10-year heatwaves will be 4.1 times more frequent with 1.9°C hotter temperatures. Under the 4°C scenario, 10-year heatwaves will be 9.4 times more likely, with 5.1°C hotter temperatures. That would be uninhabitable for most human settlements, causing power outages, infrastructure failure, and heat-related deaths. These extreme weather events put billions of people in danger.

Aerosol cooling and natural carbon sinks are mitigating the perceived effects of anthropogenic climate change. This means that we are not suffering as much now, but that soon we will feel all the effects at a higher intensity.

The IPCC found that sea-level rise in the 1.5° C scenario would be around 0.5 meters, while under the 4°C, it could be a rise of 2-15 meters. In any scenario, we will see the need to build sea walls and eventually move millions of people away from coasts. This will cause a mass of climate refugees who must relocate to safer inland areas, possibly contributing to political strife.

5 scenarios for our future

IPCC
Global warming scenarios

The most important part of the report illustrates five scenarios of climate change, each depicting a different course of action from the human race. They range from a business-as-usual scenario (4° Celsius warming), which assumes we will continue on our current emissions trajectory, to a scenario where we stop emissions (1.5° Celsius warming). In all the scenarios, global temperatures increase until at least 2050. This means that even if we stopped all carbon emissions today and started carbon sequestration efforts, the planet will continue to warm. The damage we have already done is so powerful that it cannot be stopped.

However, this does not mean that we should not work to reduce emissions. We cannot avoid 1.5° Celsius, but we can avoid further warming. The higher-emissions scenarios in the IPCC report would spell catastrophe for the human race.

The important concept to remember is that the relationship between increased temperature and the negative effects is not linear. For each increment in global temperature, the effects of mean temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture are larger. Therefore, we should mitigate as much temperature increase as we can to prevent the worst, most uncontrollable effects.

Taking action

The key to all of this is an accurate measurement of emissions in order to guide people on how they can actively reduce their footprint and make an impact. To reduce the worst effects of climate change, we need to reach net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible, as well as work to sequester carbon and adapt to the current effects we see. The next IPCC report will focus on the steps that we can take to stay in line with global warming scenarios. However, we must keep global average temperatures below 1.5° C to protect ourselves from the worst effects of climate change.

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