‘Code red for humanity’: rising temperatures and sea-levels ‘inevitable’ say climate scientists

The IPCC’s report on climate change paints a bleak picture, but says the worst impacts can be avoided if drastic action is taken now

Global warming is “unequivocally” being driven by human activity, such as burning fossil fuels, leading to unprecedented changes to the climate, and driving weather and climate extremes in all parts of the world, a landmark new report claims.

The major study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading authority on climate science, paints a grim picture but leaves some room for hope that the worst consequences can still be avoided through bold action.

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At a glance: the key points

– The world will reach or exceed temperature rises of 1.5C over the next two decades, the limit set by the Paris Climate agreement, with further rises extremely likely without rapid action to reduce emissions

– Average temperatures have risen by 1.1C since the latter half of the 19th century, but scientists say the increase could be stabilised at 1.5C

– Even if temperatures are stabilised at the 1.5C rise, sea level rises, melting Arctic Ice and ocean acidification are likely to be inevitable, though further rises to 2C would mean even graver consequences and more extreme weather events

Average temperatures have risen by 1.1C since the latter half of the 19th century, but scientists say the increase could be stabilised at 1.5C

– The report states that extreme weather events are already becoming more common and severe as a result of current levels of warming and will worsen significantly even in the event that temperature rises stabilise at 1.5C

– Current pledges of action to reduce emissions would see temperatures rise by as much as 2.7C this century, or potentially higher if the pledges aren’t met.

– However, bold action on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, with carbon cut to net zero by 2050, further efforts to remove more carbon dioxide from the air than is generated and reducing the level of methane emissions, could see the climate stabilise at a 1.5C rise

– The rate at which sea levels are rising is increasing, which is set to continue to rise now regardless of emissions reductions due to irreversible past and future warming

– Sea levels could rise by at least 28cm-55cm in a best case scenario, or several metres at worst, causing devastation for coastal communities and waves of mass migration out of uninhabitable areas

What’s been said?

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said: “[The report] is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”

"If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as today's report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses. I count on government leaders and all stakeholders to ensure COP26 is a success.

“This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”

Boris Johnson said: “Today’s report makes for sobering reading, and it is clear that the next decade is going to be pivotal to securing the future of our planet … I hope today’s report will be a wake-up call for the world to take action now, before we meet in Glasgow in November for the critical Cop26 summit.”

John Kerry, special envoy to US president Joe Biden, said: “The IPCC report underscores the overwhelming urgency of this moment. The world must come together before the ability to limit global warming to 1.5C is out of reach … Glasgow must be a turning point in this crisis.”

Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: “This is not the first generation of world leaders to be warned by scientists about the gravity of the climate crisis, but they’re the last that can afford to ignore them. The increasing frequency, scale and intensity of climate disasters that have scorched and flooded many parts of the world in recent months is the result of past inaction. Unless world leaders finally start to act on these warnings, things will get much, much worse.”

Ed Hawkins, a professor of climate science at the University of Reading, and a lead author for the IPCC, said: “We are already experiencing climate change, including more frequent and extreme weather events, and for many of these impacts there is no going back.”

Background

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a part of the United Nations, and was set up in 1988 to assess climate science.

The IPCC’s latest report is the sixth produced by the panel and the first since 2013.

The report represents the sum of human knowledge on climate science, drawing on more than 14,000 scientific papers.

Today’s report is actually a 42-page summary document, known as the Summary for Policymakers, and will be followed by a series of detailed reports publish over the next few months.

Following that two further instalments of the report will be published next year, looking first at the impacts of the climate crisis, then potential solutions.

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