Newsman: The governments must do a better job of protecting the most vulnerable communities while also rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions as Billions of people on every continent are suffering because of climate change, according to a major new United Nations report released on Monday.
,”Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership. With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change” the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in remarks during a press conference Monday morning.
“Delay means death” the Secretary-General warned. He doubled down on that message, calling fossil fuels “a dead end.”
“Coal and other fossil fuels are choking humanity,” Guterres says. Fossil fuel companies, banks and investors are all complicit, he argues. “Those in the private sector still financing coal must be held to account. Oil and gas giants – and their underwriters – are also on notice.”
“The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal,” Guterres said in a statement. “The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.”
He also said that “current events” showed the world was too reliant of fossil fuels, calling them “a dead end,” in an apparent reference to the Ukraine conflict and energy crisis.
The new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that climate change affects nearly every aspect of life on Earth. Additionally, some communities and ecosystems are being hit so hard, they may not be able to adapt. Climate change is on course to transform life on Earth as we know it, and unless global warming is dramatically slowed, billions of people and other species will reach points where they can no longer adapt to the new normal, according to report published..
The UN-backed report based on years of research by nearly 300 top scientists from around the world paints a picture of a planet already transformed by greenhouse gas emissions, and teetering on the brink of widespread, irreversible damage. Scientists found that the impacts from human-caused climate change were larger than previously thought. The report’s authors say these impacts are happening much faster and are more disruptive and widespread than scientists expected 20 years ago.
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet,”IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner said in a statement.
“Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future,” he said.
“–Any further delay in concerted global action will [mean] the brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future,” the panel’s co-chair Debra Roberts.
The report also states: “Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”
“Starting today, every action, every choice, and every decision matters. Because each of them can take us away from or towards a climate resilient sustainable world,” it added.
The report released Monday is part of a series of reports from the IPCC, a group of climate science experts who advise governments on climate-related matters such as the Paris Agreement.
The U.N. panel warns of climate change’s severe and worsening effects on human health and safety as well as damage to plants and animals that is pushing ecosystems beyond their natural ability to recover.
Scientists have warned for decades warming needs to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Report warns that the world has a more than 50% chance of exceeding 1.5 Celcius of additional warming — the benchmark set under the Paris Agreement to prevent worsening climate change impact.
The world is already 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than before industrialization, — and more in some areas, according to the IPCC’s estimate, which is considered conservative. We are now rapidly barreling toward 1.5 degrees. At warming of 2 degrees, for example, as many as 18% of all land species will be at high risk of extinction, according to the report. At 4 degrees, 50% of species are threatened.
The report highlights that some parts of the world are more vulnerable than others, saying 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in areas considered “highly vulnerable” to climate change.
Any additional warming beyond that level, according to the report, will increase the risk of severe and potentially irreversible impact on humans and the environment.
“Depending on the magnitude and duration of overshoot, some impacts will cause release of additional greenhouse gasses, and some will be irreversible, even if global warming is reduced,” the report says.
As global warming increases, the report says limited water availability, strained food production systems and increaseed health problems and premature deaths from exposure to heat waves or diseases, can result.
Some environmental changes are already irreversible
Some of the most delicate ecosystems have already been irreversibly altered by climate change, with serious implications for global warming later this century.
For example, coral reefs initially adapted to warmer water, but as oceans kept getting hotter in recent years, the reefs were overwhelmed and many have died. The same is true of polar, mountain, wetland and rainforest ecosystems, where temperatures have risen too quickly for plants and animals to adapt. Instead, species have gone extinct, or moved to places with cooler climates.
That ecosystem destruction will affect how much carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere, trapping heat.
For example, forests and tundra in North America and Siberia usually soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But the report notes that as those ecosystems thaw and even burn, they suck up less carbon dioxide and, in some cases, even end up emitting it.
For that reason, protecting natural landscapes far from human settlements is an important way to protect human life and health, too, the report notes.
Climate change is harming human health
There have been big advances in climate science since the last report of this kind was published nearly a decade ago. Scientists are now able to see the fingerprints of climate change on individual storms, wildfires and heat waves. Those connections allow epidemiologists, economists and social scientists to study the effects of global warming on human health and well-being.
For example, climate change is dangerous for pregnant women, the report notes for the first time. Wildfire smoke exacerbates respiratory and cardiovascular disease. And the trauma of living through a weather disaster can cause long-term mental health problems.
The authors return again and again to the deadly effects of heat waves. Around the world, high temperatures are killing people and making them sick.
Worldwide, poor people, Indigenous people and others who are marginalized are at the highest risk from heat, and from the effects of climate change more broadly, the report notes repeatedly.
“The effects of extreme heat aren’t always visible which is something that makes people forget about them. But they are dangerous precisely because of that relative invisibility” authors said.
In the U.S., poor people and people of color are more likely to live and work in dense urban areas with limited green space where temperatures are significantly higher than the surrounding areas, with disastrous consequences.
Heat waves are particularly dangerous when they hit areas that are historically temperate, such as the Pacific Northwest, where hundreds people died in a heat wave last summer.
A previous U.N. report released last summer estimated there is at least a 50% chance that global temperatures will reach that 2.7 degree Fahrenheit threshold by mid-century. The new report digs into what that might look like. For example, there is a big difference between lingering briefly in the danger zone, and permanently camping out there.
If temperatures in some parts of the world exceed 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit briefly, before dropping again by mid-century, it’s still possible to avoid widespread irreversible changes. Damaged ecosystems could recover. Strained aquifers could be replenished.
But, the report notes, if humans allow global warming to linger above 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit for decades, the world will be transformed for centuries. Ice sheets and glaciers will not soon refreeze. Extinct species will not come back to life.
Preventing that kind of runaway warming requires dramatic cuts to greenhouse emissions in the next decade, which would require that humans stop burning fossil fuels in cars, trucks and power plants. The U.S. has been slow to reduce emissions in part because misinformation about climate change and the politicization of climate science has caused widespread public confusion about the true risks of global warming, the report says.
While the report warns about the urgent risks of allowing warming to continue, it also discusses the parallel track of how to adapt to the impacts of climate change that are already here and quickly becoming more severe.
In some cases, the limits of adaptation have been reached and there is no known solution, such as coral reefs that are unable to recover from warming ocean temperatures.
But limits to human adaptation are less tangible, and, in many cases, the report found they can be overcome through financial assistance or government intervention.