According to a new report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the impacts of climate change are already here, and our window to prevent a more catastrophic future is closing rapidly.
The report draws on over 14,000 scientific studies and includes 40 contributing authors from across the globe. Its comprehensive look into how climate change affects our planet now and into the future is undeniably bleak. However, among its findings are several clear action items and one very real glimmer of hope.
Climate Change is Here
The report indicates that Earth's temperature has already risen by 1.1 C. There is additional evidence that this warming trend is already creating dramatic environmental changes. From massive wildfires in California to the recent flooding in Germany, the report draws a clear correlation between the impact of climate change and severe weather events across the globe.
At its current trajectory and without severe action, the planet's temperature could rise by 2.0 C by 2060 and 2.7 C by the year 3000. Such increases would make much of the world uninhabitable and cause an acceleration of sea levels to obliterate some island nations.
Humans Are At Fault
The report squarely places the blame for the warming trend on human activity, stating that greenhouse gas emissions are "unequivocally caused by human activities."
When asked about this statement, IPCC co-author Friederike Otto minces no words, saying, "There is no uncertain language in this sentence, because there is no uncertainty that global warming is caused by human activity and the burning of fossil fuels."
We Need to Act Now
Michael E. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and a lead author of the IPCC's 2001 report, said: "The bottom line is that we have zero years left to avoid dangerous climate change because it's here."
Earth has continued to warm since 2018, when the IPCC published a special report on the significance of a 1.5 C temperature increase and its catastrophic effect on the planet. The current report states that we will cross the 1.5 C threshold within 20 years without immediate action.
"The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold is by urgently stepping up our efforts and pursuing the most ambitious path," said UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres. Gutteres also called the report "a code red for humanity."
The most critical action we can take, according to the report, is to reduce the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2), from burning fossil fuels. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is transportation, which generated 29 percent of all greenhouse gases in 2019.
Some Change is Irreversible
Regardless of our efforts, some landmarks will never be the same. The most notable is the Greenland ice sheets, which will continue to melt and raise the Earth's sea levels for centuries.
"We are now committed to some aspects of climate change, some of which are irreversible for hundreds to thousands of years," says Tamsin Edwards, IPCC co-author.
There Is Good News
Ko Barrett, the former vice-chair of the IPCC, says we need to implement "unprecedented transformational change, rapid and immediate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050." Barrett adds, "The idea that there is still a pathway forward is a point that should give us some hope."
That pathway will be on the agenda at the end of October in Glasgow when the United Nations hosts their 2021 Climate Change Conference (COP26). At the conference, world leaders will negotiate the next steps towards securing a more sustainable future.