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New United Nations Climate Report Is in and It’s ‘Code Red for Humanity’

The latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out earlier this week and the findings were, to put it generously, dreadful. The report, put together by 234 scientists, documents climate changes in every region on Earth and states that some effects are irreversible over hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. In a press statement, UN secretary-general António Guterres said the report was a “code red for humanity.” Here in the U.S., we’re already seeing severe effects of climate change from West Coast to East. If you’re looking for good news regarding climate change, you’re going to have to dig for it.

“It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse,” said Linda Mearns, a senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and report co-author told the Associated Press. “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”

Clean-up after July floods in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany.
Clean-up after July floods in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany. Flooding in western Germany killed 189 people. Sepp Spiegl/PHOTOWEB/SIPA/Shutterstock / Shutterstock

Why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The IPCC was created to provide governments with the scientific information they need to develop climate policies. It currently has 195 member countries. When the first IPCC report came out in 1990, among its conclusion was that human-caused climate change would soon become evident. However, they couldn’t confirm it was already occurring. Now, five assessment reports later, the evidence is in. Scientists can now see how much the climate has changed since pre-industrial eras, and they’re certain humans are the main cause of it.

The key points of the report

The 3,000-plus-page report is not exactly beach reading (the FAQs alone are 96 pages), but it includes some key points.

The report points to carbon dioxide as the primary driver of climate change. To a lesser degree, greenhouse gases such as methane and air pollutants are also to blame.

We’ll see a more intense rain cycle, as a result of climate change, per the IPCC. Depending on where you live, it can bring more intense rain fall and floods or more severe drought. In addition, rainfall over higher latitudes will increase while it decreases over subtropical areas.

Coastal areas will experience sea level rises throughout this century, meaning more flooding and coastal erosion. “Extreme sea level events” that have devastating effects on coastal areas used to happen every 100 years. The IPCC report says that these could soon become annual events.

Warming temperatures will increase thawing of permafrost, which will release more methane. In addition, it will lead to less snow cover, the melting of glaciers and ice sheet, and the loss of summer Arctic sea ice.

Other changes expected to continue over the next 100 years and linked to human influence include marine heatwaves, ocean acidification, ocean warming and reduced marine oxygen levels.

In cities, the effects of climate change might include hotter days and flooding due to increased rainfall. Meanwhile, coastal cities will be dealing with continually rising sea levels.

“It has been clear for decades that the Earth’s climate is changing, and the role of human influence on the climate system is undisputed,” said Valérie Masson-Delmotte, a French climate scientist, research director at the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, and IPCC co-chair. Masson-Delmotte also called the report “a reality check.”

Is there hope?

However dire the report, it’s not devoid of hope. The report’s authors believe human actions can still have a positive impact on climate change in the future. Of course, it’ll take an incredible amount of effort, and it’s not going to be easy. The Paris Agreement on climate was adopted in 2015, with the goal of maintaining global mean temperature below 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), and six years later, the temperature is already up 1.1 degrees C (2 degrees F). We’re expected to pass the 1.5 degrees C mark in the 2030s. With a 2.0 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) increase in global mean temperatures, heat extremes would threaten agriculture and health.

France's largest glacier La Mer de Glace on the Mont Blanc Massif.
France’s largest glacier La Mer de Glace on the Mont Blanc Massif. Scientists believe that the glacier might not last until 2100 due to climate change. KONRAD K/SIPA/Shutterstock / Shutterstock

“Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions. Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate,” said Panmao Zhai, a Chinese climatologist, secretary general of the Chinese Meteorological Society, and a IPCC co-chair.

If you’re interested in how climate change could affect where you live, the IPCC created an interactive atlas that shows the possible effects of climate change on temperature, precipitation, and more. Unfortunately, much like the conclusions of the IPCC report, those futures presented on the map aren’t currently bright.

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