Climate change driven by humans is already causing dangerous and widespread disruption, international scientists warned this morning.
The latest assessment of climate science by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) said there was a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.
The report, adopted by 195 governments, warns of mounting and increasingly irreversible losses of life, biodiversity and infrastructure.
Billions of people will be affected by climate change, despite efforts to reduce the risks, it said. The impacts are worse in cities, where half the world’s population live.
Ambitious, accelerated action is needed to adapt to climate change, along with rapid deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Hans-Otto Pörtner, a co-chair of working group 2 of the IPCC, said:
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”
“Damning indictment of failed climate leadership”
The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, said he had seen nothing like the latest report:
“[It] is an atlas of human suffering and damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”
Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone now, he said. People were being “clobbered by climate change”.
“Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frogmarch to destruction now.
“The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal.”
Mr Guterres said:
“The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson on our only home.”
It was essential, he said, to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by cutting emissions by 45% by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. But he said:
“according to current commitments, global emissions are set to increase almost 14 per cent over the current decade. That spells catastrophe. It will destroy any chance of keeping 1.5 alive.”
He said the IPCC report put oil and gas giants and their underwriters on notice:
“You cannot claim to be green while your plans and projects undermine the 2050 net-zero target and ignore the major emissions cuts that must occur this decade. People see through this smokescreen.”
Mr Guterres said fossil fuels were “choking humanity”. They were a “dead end” for the planet, people and economies. Continued reliance on them made the global economy and energy security vulnerable to geo-political shocks and crises. He said:
“Now is the time to accelerate the energy transition to a renewable energy future”.
“Need to go further and faster to clean power”
A UK government spokesperson said this morning:
“Today’s stark report from the IPCC is a reminder to the world about how climate change is affecting our planet, underlining that we need to go further and faster to adapt and generate more clean power to reduce countries’ exposure to expensive global gas prices, embracing the commitments of the Glasgow Climate Pact.”
Rachel Kennerley, international climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said:
“The time for reality checks is long gone: we have the answers and means to step back from the brink of climate catastrophe. It starts with an immediate end to the age of fossil fuels and ramping up the shift to renewable energy with the governmental support to see that crucial transition through.”
The IPCC said the world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5C. At this level, climate resilient development is already challenging.
But even temporary warming above 1.5C will result in additional severe and sometimes irreversible impacts, it said. Above 2C, climate resilient development becomes impossible.
The report’s 270 authors from 67 countries said heatwaves, droughts and floods are already causing food and water shortages for millions of people and the mass loss of some plants and animals.
3.3-3.6 billion people in the world live in areas that are already highly vulnerable to climate change.
Coastal areas and small low-lying islands face flooding if temperatures rise by more than 1.5C.
But no inhabited regions of the world will escape the effects of climate change.
Important ecosystems are losing their ability to absorb carbon dioxide and are turning from carbon sinks to sources of carbon.
Adaptation efforts are happening across all sectors and regions, but the progress is unevenly distributed, as well as being fragmented, small scale and incremental.
There are gaps between current levels of adaptation and levels needed to respond to impacts and reduce risks.
The report says natural environments can reduce climate risks and improve people’s lives. Healthy ecosystems, for example, are more resilient to climate change and provide food and clean water and can absorb and store carbon.
Hans-Otto Pörtner, said:
“By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential.”
The report concludes that climate change interacts with unsustainable use of natural resources, growing urbanization, social inequalities, losses and damages from extreme events and a pandemic, jeopardizing future development.
Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the IPCC working group II said:
“tackling all these different challenges involves everyone – governments, the private sector, civil society – working together to prioritize risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment.”
The secretary general of the World Meteorological Organisation, Petteri Tallas, said:
“Our atmosphere today is on steroids, doped with fossil fuels. This is already leading to stronger, longer and more frequent extreme weather events. Climate change induced disasters come with high human and economic impacts.”
The IPCC’s chair, Hoesung Lee, said:
“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet.
“It emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”
Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme said:
“Climate change is not lurking around the corner waiting to pounce. It is already upon us, raining down blows on billions of people.
“We are in an emergency heading for disaster. We can’t keep taking these hits and treating the wounds. Soon those wounds will be too deep, too catastrophic to heal.
“We need to soften the blows by cutting greenhouse gas emissions …and by picking up our efforts to adapt to climate change which have been too weak for too long.”
Mary Church, head of campaigns for Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:
“Following all the backslapping at COP26 this report is a stark reminder of the reality of the climate crisis and must serve as a wake up call to governments relying on vague 2050 net zero goals, pathways that overshoot 1.5oC and fantasy techno-fixes. With barely a decade left before we reach this critical threshold we urgently need to focus on the solutions we know are necessary including a rapid and just phase out of fossil fuels.
“Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Glasgow and worldwide last November demanding a response to the climate crisis that puts justice at the heart of domestic and international efforts, transforming our economic, energy, and food systems and putting people and nature over profit.”
This is the second part of the latest IPCC assessment report, based on five years of work and review of 34,000 scientific papers.
The first part, published in August 2021, concluded that climate change was “unequivocally caused by human actions”. Dr Guterres described that report as a “code red for humanity”.
The third part on cutting greenhouse gas emissions is due in April 2022. A final part in October will summarise lessons for governments.