Many changes to the climate due to past and future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are now irreversible for the next millennia – especially those in the ocean, including melting ice caps and rising sea levels.
That is just one of the devastating findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) new report.
This is not to say that all hope is lost.
The report reveals that heavy reductions in global carbon emissions would limit climate change overall; with air quality improving rapidly and global temperatures taking between 20 to 30 years to stabilise.
The IPCC has laid out the necessary steps that must be taken to mitigate climate change and has highlighted if these are not taken, preventing global warming levels from surpassing 1.5°C over the coming decades will be impossible.
What is climate change doing?
- Climate change is intensifying the water cycle, leading to increased rainfall and flooding, as well as intense drought in other regions of the planet.
- Rainfall patterns are being impacted – precipitation is projected to increase in high altitudes and decrease across many parts of the subtropics.
- Coastal erosion is rapidly increasing due to continued rising sea levels since the start of the 21st century. Extreme sea level events that used to occur once in a hundred years could now happen annually.
- The Arctic sea ice, glaciers and ice sheets will all be lost due to permafrost thawing.
- Ocean acidification, warming and reduced oxygen levels have all been linked to human action and are destroying natural ecosystems.
The report states that human activities are responsible for around 1.1°C of global warming since the turn of the nineteenth century, with the IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte stating: “This report is a reality check. We now have a much clearer picture of the past, present and future climate, which is essential for understanding where we are headed, what can be done and how we can prepare.”
Humans can still determine the future course of climate and the health of the planet.
What can be done?
- Reaching net zero carbon emissions is essential to keeping global warming to a specific level.
- As well as carbon emissions, methane emissions must have a heavy decrease; they lead to aerosol pollution which impacts the amount of heat getting in and out of the atmosphere, thus affecting the formation of clouds.
- The removal of human carbon emissions could lead to a reversal of ocean acidification and the stabilisation of temperatures in the coming decades.
- Net zero could limit the frequency of extreme sea level events, flooding and extremely high temperatures in parts of the planet.
“Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways. The changes we experience will increase with additional warming.
“Stabilising the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and reaching net zero carbon emissions. Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate”, said IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Panmao Zhai.
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