Humanity has a ‘brief and rapidly closing window’ to avoid a hotter, deadly future, U.N. climate report says
Latest IPCC report details escalating toll — but top scientists say the world still can choose a less catastrophic path
In the hotter and more hellish world humans are creating, parts of the planet could become unbearable in the not-so-distant future, a panel of the world’s foremost scientists warned Monday in an exhaustive report on the escalating toll of climate change.
Unchecked greenhouse gas emissions will raise sea levels several feet, swallowing small island nations and overwhelming even the world’s wealthiest coastal regions. Drought, heat, hunger and disaster may force millions of people from their homes. Coral reefs could vanish, along with a growing number of animal species. Disease-carrying insects would proliferate. Deaths — from malnutrition, extreme heat, pollution — will surge.
These are some of the grim projections detailed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body dedicated to providing policymakers with regular assessments of the warming world.
Drawing on thousands of academic studies from around the globe, the sweeping analysis finds that climate change is already causing “dangerous and widespread disruption” to the natural world, as well as billions of people around the planet. Failure to curb pollution from fossil fuels and other human activities, it says, will condemn the world to a future that is both universally dangerous and deeply unequal.
Low-income countries, which generate only a tiny fraction of global emissions, will experience the vast majority of deaths and displacement from the worst-case warming scenarios, the IPCC warns. Yet these nations have the least capacity to adapt — a disparity that extends to even the basic research needed to understand looming risks.
“I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a statement. Noting the litany of devastating impacts that already are unfolding, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”
“This abdication of leadership is criminal,” Guterres added. “The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.”
Yet if there is a glimmer of hope in the more than 3,500-page report, it is that the world still has a chance to choose a less catastrophic path. While some climate impacts are destined to worsen, the amount that Earth ultimately warms is not yet written in stone.
The report makes clear, however, that averting the worst-case scenarios will require nothing less than transformational change on a global scale.
Read the full Washington Post review
Read the summary prepared by Ralph Watts of Dorset CAN
Read the article by Belinda Bawden of Dorset CAN
On 22 May, in the run-up to the G7 summit, the Environment and Energy Ministers of the G7 countries agreed to end their financial support for coal development overseas. This is seen as a major step toward phasing out the dirtiest fossil fuel. At the same time, they reaffirmed the commitment of their countries to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. In the same week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that all new developments of fossil fuels must end this year to give the world a good chance of keeping within the 1.5C limit. Prospects for achieving that do not look good, and much will depend upon decisions made by China, which has been helping developing countries with offers of finance for coal-fired power plants. Recent increase in the use of coal, after the pandemic lockdown, is largely responsible for what is forecast by IEA to be the second biggest rise in emissions on record.
Reuters 21 May 2021
A portion of the Greenland ice sheet appears to be reaching a tipping point where it would fall into an irreversible period of melting, according to research by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The ice covers about 660,000 square miles and is up to 3,000 m thick. It will retain its size only if the mass lost to meltwater and calving icebergs each year is replenished by new snowfall. The research suggests that warming of the Arctic has disturbed this balance. The ice sheet is shrinking. As its height reduces, it is exposed to higher average temperatures. This leads to more melting, further height reductions, warmer temperatures still and an accelerating loss of ice. The collapse of the sheet, which contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by 7 metres, would affect coastal regions and cities around the world.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA
Guardian, 17 May 2021
In the last week of May, a judge in The Hague district court in the Netherlands ruled that Shell must cut its emissions by 45% by 2030 relative to 2019 levels. Before this ruling, courts in the Netherlands, France and Germany had concentrated on holding governments to their commitments under the Paris climate deal of 2015. States were found guilty of denying basic rights to future citizens, triggering more ambitious climate plans. The landmark Hague decision shows that corporations can now be ordered to comply with the goals of the Paris agreement. The judgement placed responsibility on Shell not just for its own emissions but for those of its customers. Taken together these amounted to 1.7 billion tons of CO2 in 2019, about the same as Russia, the world’s fourth-largest polluter. The company, headquartered in Holland, will appeal. The story will not end here, but the pressure to ‘clean up their act’ is clearly growing on both states and the private sector as we approach COP 26 in November
Foreign Policy magazine 27 May 2021
President Bíden has reversed the plans approved by Donald Trump to allow companies to drill for oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic National wildlife refuge, a remote region that is home for polar bears, caribou, snowy owls and migrating birds from six continents – and 11 billion barrels of oil. The decision to suspend the oil drilling licences follows the temporary moratorium on oil and gas lease activities imposed by Joe Biden on his first day in office, and serves as a high-profile show of his climate credentials after approving hundreds of requests to drill on federal lands in recent weeks.
More details: Guardian 2 June 2021
Judges in Strasbourg have green-lit a landmark climate case that could hold governments accountable for moving too slowly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The European Court of Human Rights has told the governments of 33 industrialized countries to promptly respond to a climate lawsuit lodged by six youth campaigners in September, giving it priority status because of the "importance and urgency of the issues raised."
The young people, supported by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), allege the countries — which include Germany, the UK, Russia and Portugal — have failed to enact the emission cuts needed to protect their futures.
The case focuses on countries whose policies lawyers argue are too weak to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) Paris Agreement goal. They cite the country ratings of the Climate Action Tracker.
The plaintiffs range from age 8 to 21 and come from Lisbon and Leiria in Portugal. The case states climate change poses a rising threat to the six young people's lives and their physical and mental well-being. It invokes human rights arguments — including the right to life, a home and to family — as well as claiming discrimination.
The climate case is the first of its kind to be filed at the European Court of Human Rights.
On 8 February, University College London published research results showing that worldwide about 1 in 5 deaths every year can be attributed to fossil fuel pollution, a figure much higher than previously thought. The study shows that 8.7 million people around the globe die each year as a result of breathing in air containing particles from burning fuels like coal, petrol and diesel, which aggravate respiratory conditions like asthma and can lead to lung cancer, heart disease, strokes and early death.
What about the UK ? The researchers reckon that in 2012 fine particles were a contributory factor in 99,000 deaths in the UK, more than double the estimate published in 2016 by the Royal College of Physicians of 40,000 deaths a year from all sources of air pollution. Professor Eloise Marais of UCL said that “Burning fossil fuels produces fine particles laden with toxins small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs. We cannot in good conscience continue to rely on fossil fuels, when we know that there are such severe effects on health and viable, cleaner alternatives.”
Read more at the UCL website
Pledge To Net Zero – a relatively new initiative tackling greenhouse gas emissions within the UK’s environmental services sector – has formally joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Race to Zero campaign.
Race To Zero is a global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors and universities for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth. All members are committed to the same overarching goal: achieving net zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest.
It mobilises a coalition of leading net zero initiatives, representing 23 regions, 454 cities, 1,397 companies, 569 universities, and 74 investors, alone making up over 12% of the global economy. This coalition across economic sectors joins 120 countries in the largest ever alliance committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.
Pledge To Net Zero was launched in late 2019 to convene fast climate action in the UK’s environmental sector. It requires signatories to commit to deliver a greenhouse gas target in line with either a 1.5°C climate change scenario, or well below 2°C.
So far, 73 firms and institutions have joined Pledge To Net Zero, covering around 80% of the UK environmental consulting market and 60,000 UK employees.
Read more from IEMA website
Making Peace with Nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies
UN secretary-general, António Guterres, launching a major new UN report says in the Foreword:
“Humanity is waging war on nature. This is senseless and suicidal. The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth. Ending our war does not mean surrendering hard-won development gains. Nor does it cancel the rightful aspiration of poorer nations and people to enjoy better living standards. On the contrary, making peace with nature, securing its health and
building on the critical and undervalued benefits that it provides are key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all.
This report provides the bedrock for hope. By bringing together the latest scientific evidence showing the impacts and threats of the climate emergency, the biodiversity crisis and the pollution that kills millions of people every year, it makes clear that our war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safer place by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme. By transforming how we view nature, we can recognize its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it.
By recognizing nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet. Making peace with nature is the defining task of the coming decades.”
Read the report