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IPCC 2021 report on climate change - just time to avert catastrophe

IPCC-Climate-Change

Even the most avid climate change sceptic must have moved their position somewhat in the light of the devastating weather events we have experienced over the last few years. Record-breaking rainfall and temperatures do not in themselves prove the climate is changing, yet they are a good indication that something quite frightening is happening to our weather. This is a brief outline of the IPCC sixth assessment report "The Physical Science Basis" released in 2021. 

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) examines the physical changes that are happening to the climate right now due to human activity and how these are likely to manifest as devastating floods, destructive wildfires, rising sea levels, and other adversities in the future.

The current report looks at the projected impact of five possible emission scenarios, while reports the IPCC plan to publish in 2022 will discuss possible ways to adapt to these changes and suggest how we might ameliorate them. However, the message couldn't be more precise – we must take "immediate and large scale" action to avoid climate catastrophe.

Unless we act now, by 2030, the world will breach the Paris Agreement target to keep global warming below 1.5 0C. It is now unequivocal that this is the result of human activity. Every increment of warming will exacerbate natural disasters. Some of the report's key findings include:

Rising temperatures

Under all three emission scenarios, surface warming will each 1.5 0C by 2040 and or 1.6 0C by 2060. To avoid this, we must show a drastic reduction in CO2 emissions this decade and reduce emissions to net-zero by 2050.

Tipping points

Tipping points are thresholds where small increases can trigger systems into new states. Once they occur, tipping points rarely move in the reverse direction. Some of these highlighted in the report include: rising temperatures could cause forests to die back and consequently be less able to capture CO2; already, parts of the amazon are emitting more CO2 than they absorb. In addition, antarctic ice sheets could break free, resulting in rapidly rising sea levels.

Limiting global warming

The good news is that we still have an opportunity to reduce these consequences. In IPCC's worst-case scenario, we would see a warming of up to 4 0C from 2075 to 2094. The table below shows when various temperature thresholds would be reached if we take no action and if we drastically reduce emissions.

Taking ambitious action

High carbon emissions

1.5 C

2 C

3 C

4 C

1.5 C

2 C

3 C

4 C

2025to 2044

Avoided

Avoided

Avoided

2018 to 2037

2032 to 2051

2055 to 2074

2075 to 2094

A summary of IPCC Working Groups 

  •  Working Group I (WG1): The physical science basis - AR6 published August 2021
  • Working Group II (WG2): Impacts, adaption and vulnerability - Due to be published February 2022
  • Working Group III (WG3): Mitigation of climate change - Due to be published in March 2022
A synthesis report that pulls the reports together will follow in September 2022.
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