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Landmark IPCC report reaffirms knowledge of climate threats and offers stark warnings

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Floodwaters in the Kuttanad region of Kerala. Disasters such as flooding are likely to increase unless India steps up in the fight against climate change.

The UN’s latest major climate report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides stark warnings of what it describes as the ‘code red’ situation humanity is facing through the effects of anthropogenically-influenced global warming. 

The comprehensive IPCC WG1 is the latest IPCC report since 2013 when the Fifth Assessment report was published. It summarises the “physical science basis” for climate change by pulling together the findings from more than 14,000 peer-reviewed studies. The report details how ‘unequivocal’ warming caused by climate drivers – primarily greenhouse gases – is causing ‘irreversible’ change. For many, these insights already affirm what we know. 

“We’re already experiencing climate change, including more frequent and more extreme weather events,” IPCC author Professor Ed Hawkins of the University of Reading stated. “The consequences will continue to get worse for every bit of warming, and for many of these consequences, there’s no going back.”

Key takeaways from the IPCC report

With twelve core chapters and an online interactive atlas, the report contains the latest observations collected from land and ocean, remote measurements from satellites, and data drawn from climate proxies. One of the key takeaways from the data included in the report is the evidence of the hockey stick blade growing sharper. 

The ‘hockey stick blade’ is the term coined by Michael Mann for the graph spike showing the relatively little temperature rise in global temperatures from AD 1000 to 1900 and the sharp rise in the 20th century when the impacts of fossil fuel burning started to take effect. The curve, which is based on proxy records from tree rings, corals, and ice cores, has shown no sign of abating and continues to rise sharply with the ‘handle’ growing longer and steeper

The IPCC WG1 states “global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5℃ and 2℃ will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”

The data also shows how climate change is amplifying weather extremes in the immediate. The widespread effects are causing wildfires, flooding, and catastrophic storms leading to damage and deaths. Connecting the dots between the link, the IPCC goes on to show that for each year of 1℃ warming, the expected intensity of a 1-in-10 year and a 1-in-50 year extreme rainfall event will increase by seven per cent. For low-and-middle-income countries such as India that are already feeling the effects, the prospect of this exacerbating further without action is gravely frightening. 

The far-reaching effects of climate change this year alone have manifested in the damage wrought by extreme weather events such as Cyclone Yaas and Cyclone Tauktae and recent voluminous flooding in states and union territories such as Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir. As Health Issues India noted earlier this year, “it is clear that the crisis is worsening and more needs to be done. Time is fast evaporating and the grim portents of doom awaiting us should not be ignored as the disaster of the climate crisis looms on the horizon.” 

This came as a draft IPCC report obtained by AFP News warned that “the worst is yet to come, affecting our children’s and grandchildren’s lives much more than our own” and describes the mammoth document as an “indictment of humanity’s stewardship of the planet.” According to AFP News, the report is unlikely to change when the final version is released in February 2022, outlining the dire consequences of inaction.  

“Species extinction, more widespread disease, unliveable heat, ecosystem collapse, cities menaced by rising seas — these and other devastating climate impacts are accelerating and bound to become painfully obvious before a child born today turns thirty,” the draft publication outlined. “The choices societies make now will determine whether our species thrives or simply survives as the 21st century unfolds, the [IPCC] says in [the] draft report…dangerous thresholds are closer than once thought, and dire consequences stemming from decades of unbridled carbon pollution are unavoidable in the short term.” Even this dire warning came on the heels of warnings of a forty percent chance annual average global temperatures will temporarily push past the limit set out in the COP21 climate agreement in at least one of the next five years.

Mobilising action and how net-zero can work 

Despite the obvious warnings offered by the report showing that without achieving net zero and imposing strong reductions on greenhouse gases, warming will continue, there is room for optimism in radical, transformative action. 

Kyle Armour, a climate scientist and associate professor at the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington said, “It’s not too late to avoid the worst of global warming. Because the future warming we’ll experience is largely determined by our future greenhouse gas emissions, we have the power to slow down and ultimately stop global warming by reducing our emissions.” Such messages of optimism, which were widespread in the wake of the IPCC WG1 report, will be critical for mobilising action to limit warming to near 1.5℃ and certainly keep it below 2℃. 

What next?

The IPCC is set to publish the WG2 report on “Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability” and the WG3 report on “Mitigation of climate change” next year, offering crucial insight on how we can tackle the challenge that is already having widespread and pervasive impacts.  

All three reports which make up the IPCC AR6, which contains a short summary for policymakers (SPM), will no doubt have a bearing on how governments interpret the need for change. But for the coming months, we will see how the IPCC WG1 will impact the course of the fundamental agreements that need to be struck at the COP26.

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