Today is not an ideal day to be a human who cares for the planet. For years, climate scientists have been warning us about what will happen to our planet if those in power do not take the looming climate crisis seriously, and action the drastic and immediate scaling back of carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses. Extreme weather has already taken hold across the globe - need we remind ourselves of the harrowing 2019/20 bushfires, the floods that followed, the wildfires currently taking place in Greece, and the countless other natural disasters that have wreaked havoc on us for the past few decades. Now, the release of The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest report suggests we are running out of time at a devastating pace.
The IPCC’s 1300-page, 13 chapter report is the most up-to-date understanding of the climate system, and shows exactly how human activity has played a catastrophic role in catalysing our current crisis. “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,” U.N. secretary-general António Guterres said of the report, warning that the contents of the report calls for “a code red for humanity.”
The report is lengthy and horrifying, so below, is an equally horrifying, just slightly more condensed summary of the contents.
We don't have long to turn things around
In the report, the IPCC makes it clear that if we do not make tangible, drastic changes to our CO2 production swiftly, we can expect to reach a 1.5-2 degree celsius temperature increase by 2034, which is no longer far away by any measure.
And it doesn't end there. The IPCC has warned that this prediction could edge closer if action is not taken. As many of us know, while 1-2 degrees doesn't feel like a lot on a winters day, the global rise in temperature is likely to make the freak weather events that we've been seeing more frequently over the years, a commonplace across the globe. “Many changes in the climate system become larger in direct relation to increasing global warming,” the report says. “They include increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, and heavy precipitation, agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions, and proportion of intense tropical cyclones, as well as reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.”
The damage can no longer be reversed
The report has also warned that while there are some elements of climate change that have the potential to heal, some of the damages are too severe to recover. The ice caps are the biggest concern. The IPCC has noted that the only severe weather event that is decreasing in frequency is cold weather events like blizzards, which, among other factors, has lead the IPCC to conclude that “it is virtually certain that irreversible, committed change is already underway” from the evidence they have collected around ice sheets and ocean warming. This is not only an indicator towards sea levels rising, but also points towards the global rising temparature.
Who is responsible?
Unfortunately, us. Not us as in "you didn't compost your cauliflower and now the ice caps are gone", us as in those in power. The IPCC's findings confirm what we have virtually always understood: the actions of humans have led to planetary destruction. Global warming, O-Zone layer depletion, and the ice caps melting are all bound to human activity, namely the greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation.
The evidence of this is linked to a simulation the IPCC conducted that looks at what the natural warming of the earth would look like if humans weren't present, and the results only found a marginal temperature change if only solar and volcanic activity affected it.
So can we hold anyone accountable? The good news is yes, potentially. The IPCC and multiple other climate organisations like Greenpeace recently took the oil company Royal Dutch Shell to court, reported The Guardian, citing their CO2 output breaching human rights legislation, and achieved a relatively positive outcome with the court ruling that “policy intentions and ambitions for the Shell group largely amount to rather intangible, undefined and non-binding plans for the long-term”, which ruled that legally, Royal Dutch Shell had to reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030.
The IPCC's report will hopefully provide enough evidence against politicians and fossil fuel giants to hold them directly responsible for climate change by both the courts and by climate justice organisations. “We’ll be taking this report with us to the courts,” Greenpeace’s Kaisa Kosonen said. “By strengthening the scientific evidence between human emissions and extreme weather, the IPCC has provided new, powerful means to hold the fossil fuel industry and governments directly responsible for the climate emergency.”
We can't reverse it, but we can stop it getting worse
As the IPCC makes clear in the report, there is still time to stop things reaching the predicted future hellscape that we are being warned of. For example, scrapping the idea of reaching net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and acting immediately would give us the chance to stabilize temperatures and sea-levels rising. In order to make this happen we need drastic and unwavering emissions cuts yesterday. We need “Unprecedented, transformational change,” IPCC vice-chair Ko Barrett told NPR. To aid in this swift change, the report’s authors organised their findings by regions, allowing individual countries and local governments to envision and plan for their climate future, so there is very little excuses of inaction that will hold up. “With the world on the brink of irreversible harm,” Stephen Cornelius, chief adviser on climate change at WWF, told The Guardian, “every fraction of a degree of warming matters to limit the dangers.”
To prevent the planet from reaching uninhabitable, irreversible effects that will plunge the planet into a state of permanent emergency, change needs to happen on a legislative and systemic level.