A Code Red for Humanity
We are currently experiencing record-breaking droughts, wildfires, and floods that have left communities and wildlife populations devastated. This is not just a series of unfortunate events, but rather an interlinked consequence of the current climate crisis, and it is just the tip of the (rapidly melting) iceberg. As stated in the most recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published on the 9th of August, the current situation is poised to worsen if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
1.5°C of Warming
The IPCC report studied multiple climate change scenarios, and of the scenarios investigated there was more than a 50% chance of the global surface temperature reaching or exceeding the 1.5°C warming threshold by 2040. In the case of a high-carbon scenario, this threshold could be met even sooner, by the 2030s. If a carbon-intensive pathway (officially known as SSP5-8.5) scenario were to be taken, global surface temperatures could warm to 3.3-5.7°C higher than pre-industrial levels by 2100. However, if an ambitious action scenario (SSP1-1.9) were to be followed, global warming could still be limited to 1.5°C by the end of the century, although with this scenario, temperatures are still expected to initially exceed the 1.5°C of warming for a period of time, before dropping back down again by the end of the century. The IPCC report found that the global surface temperature has increased by 1.1°C due to anthropogenic activity, in comparison with the average temperature from 1850 to 1900. A level this high has not been recorded since before the most recent ice age, 125,000 years ago. By comparison, less than 0.1°C of warming is a result of natural activity, such as volcanos and solar variations.
How Does the Current Warming Differ from Previous Temperature Variations?
Earth’s climate has always naturally fluctuated, however, what distinguishes these recent warmings from previous climatic variations, is the global extent and rate of it all. Geological evidence indicates temperature changes throughout Earth’s history, showing periods of cooler and warmer temperatures. Temperature is a central indicator of the state of the climate and a fundamental element for understanding global climate change and Earth’s energy budget. However, recent research shows that global surface temperatures are now hotter than they have been for millennia. During the transition from the previous glacial period to the present interglacial period, there was a total temperature increase of 5°C across a 5000-year period. This equates to a warming rate of 1.5°C every 1000 years. By comparison, Earth’s global surface temperature has since risen close to 1.5°C within 50 years. This rate of warming has exceeded the rate of warming of any other 50-year period.
But What Does This Mean for The Planet?
Just 1.5°C of global warming will result in increasing heat waves, and changes in the duration of seasons, with warm seasons lasting longer and cold seasons lasting shorter. If temperatures rise by 2°C, extreme heat will occur, impacting agriculture and health. The water cycle will also be impacted, causing more intense rainfall, flooding, and intense drought in some regions. In higher latitudes, there will be an increase in precipitation, and a decrease in the subtropics, as well as changes in the monsoon patterns. Sea levels will continue to rise, impacting coastal areas, causing severe coastal flooding and coastal erosion. Moreover, extreme sea-level events that previously happened once in a century, could occur every year by 2100.
The IPCC report highlighted that further global warming will increase permafrost thawing, loss of seasonal snow cover, glacial and ice sheet melting, and loss of Arctic Sea ice. Global warming will also severely impact the oceans, such as warming, frequent marine heatwaves, acidification, and reduce oxygen levels. Ocean warming will cause the collapse of entire marine ecosystems. If the oceans warm by 1°C – 2°C, coral will bleach and die, which will have catastrophic results on other marine species, as 25% of marine life (over 1 million species) rely on coral reefs for at least part of their life cycle. Coral reefs are valuable nursery grounds for many fisheries species, and without these valuable coral habitats, stocks will weaken and collapse. Already, 50% of corals reefs have already been lost and it is expected that 90% will die by 2050. Over one-third of the global population relies on the ocean for their livelihood, and 200 million people are reliant on coral reefs for protection from ocean storms and coastal erosion, and thus, ocean health and the prevention of ocean warming is crucial.
The impacts of global warming are becoming increasingly apparent, with record-breaking temperatures being recorded across the globe. High temperatures of 46.4°C have been recorded in Greece, and highs of 38°C+ occurred across the Pacific North West of the United States. Between June and Mid-July, the Arctic lost an area of ice the size of Florida. It is essential that we amend the way in which we use and produce energy. Reaching net-zero CO2 emission and making considerable cuts in other greenhouse gases, such as methane, is of critical importance to successfully limit the impacts of climate change. Carbon removal can countervail emissions through natural strategies, such as reforestation, or technological strategies, such as direct air capture and storage. The IPCC, however, states that there will not be an immediate response from the climate towards carbon removal, and some impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, will take several centuries to reverse after emissions decrease. Whilst meeting the 1.5°C target will require careful management of trade-offs, and will not be easy, it also provides massive opportunities for better quality jobs, and improved health, quality of life and livelihood.
It is critical that governments, corporations, and investors step up to the plate and take action correspondent with the magnitude of the crisis we are facing. With 70% of the global industrial emissions being linked to only 100 corporations, it is imperative that corporations acknowledge their responsibility to improve sustainability within their operations. The 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties climate negotiations, taking place in Glasgow, is swiftly approaching and it is essential countries reassess their current targets and submit stronger emission reduction targets for 2030 and commit to obtaining net-zero emissions by 2050. Governments need to greatly consider the IPCC report’s findings when making these commitments for a more sustainable future.
Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you enjoyed and learned something new. If you'd like to learn more, you can access the full IPCC report here: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/#SPM
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