Starkest warning yet on impact of climate change

Starkest warning yet on impact of climate change

A global warming concept image furnished by NASA

A new UN science report is set to send what may be the starkest warning yet about the impacts of climate change on people and the planet.

The assessment is the second in a series of three reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the latest review of climate science, which take place every six or seven years for governments.

It is being published on Monday, a little over 100 days after the Cop26 summit agreed to increase action to try and limit global warming to 1.5C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The outcomes of the UN talks in Glasgow were described as keeping the temperature goal alive, but only with a weak pulse, by conference president Alok Sharma.

The first in the series of reports was described as a "code red for humanity" by UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres when it was released last summer before Cop26 setting out the unequivocal and unprecedented impact humans were having on the planet.

The latest assessment, which looks at the impacts of climate change, efforts to adapt to rising temperatures and vulnerabilities is expected to be even more worrying.

Dangerous thresholds

A draft leaked last year warned of the risk of crossing dangerous thresholds or "tipping points", where things such as melting of ice sheets or permafrost, or rainforests becoming grassland, become irreversible, with huge consequences.

The final version of the study will be released after its summary was approved line-by-line in a process involving representatives of governments and scientists over the past two weeks.

The report will set out the impacts of rising temperatures, which have already reached 1.1C above pre-industrial levels, from droughts to floods, storms, effects on health, agriculture and cities, and cascading and irreversible impacts.

There will be a specific focus on the different regions of the world, as well as looking at vulnerable populations and communities, migration, and displacement.

It will detail options for — and limits to — adapting to climate change.

Mark Watts, executive director of the C40 Cities group of mayors taking action on climate change, warned the latest report was likely to "paint a grim vision" for big cities from London to Lima.

"City residents are already on the frontline of a worsening vulnerability to climate impacts such as deadly flooding, sea-level rise, wildfires, extreme storms, and unbearable urban heat," Mr Watts said.

It is clear we are now in the climate crisis, not waiting for it. 

"We can still overcome climate breakdown and build a thriving future, but urban adaptation efforts must outpace this new climate reality."

David King, who founded the Climate Crisis Advisory Group of independent experts, warned that because of the way the IPCC reports worked, they did not include the most up-to-date studies or evidence, such as heatwaves in Canada and floods in Europe last year.

He said the importance of the reports could not be overrated.

"This crisis is such that it demands a global response," Mr King said. 

"Whereas the Covid-19 outbreak has been cataclysmic for the world, nevertheless we do recover from these, as we know from the past, even before we had vaccines, we had plagues and we recovered from them as humanity.

"There's absolutely no guarantee that we will recover from the impacts of climate change, unless we all begin to work together and far more quickly, far more effectively, than we are doing at the moment."

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