Global warming is real, and it is affecting our planet faster than any of us could have imagined. The IPCC's latest report on climate change has made headlines worldwide, alarmingly describing climate change as a "code red for humanity".
What are the findings in the report? What is the IPCC? What does it mean for the international community?
In this article, we will be diving into the report to help unpack what all of it means.
What is the IPCC?
The IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is an intergovernmental group established by the United Nations in 1988. It consists of 195 countries, making it one of the most authoritative expert organisations on climate change.
The organisation does not carry out any research or climate monitoring of its own. Instead, it analyzes the literature of recent studies to produce reports covering recent developments in climate change, its effects, and the success and failure of strategies adopted by the international community. Since its inception, the IPCC has published six assessment reports.
Earlier this month, the IPCC released a part of its report for 2021. Scientists of 66 countries have co-authored it after reviewing more than 14,000 recent studies. 195 governments then scrutinised and signed it before it was released. This process makes sure governments are alerted of the findings and can consider the data it contains during policymaking.
How fast is the Earth warming?
The report has found that between 1990 to 2021, humans have produced as much CO2 as was emitted from the beginning of time to 1990. These emissions have brought greenhouse gas levels their highest in the last two million years. Furthermore, the planet has seen a 1.1 degree Celcius increase in average temperature compared to 1850.
At first glance, 1.1 degrees may not seem significant, but every increment (however small) brings about changes in the world's atmosphere and weather.. There is evidence that even the 1.1 C increase in temperature has caused the surge in extreme weather events we see around us. The droughts in the US, flash floods in Europe, and bushfires in Australia are all examples of this.
Why is it a big deal?
In 2015, governments worldwide came together to sign the Paris Agreement. Under this treaty, all participating countries would ensure the increase in global average temperature stayed under 2 C by the end of the 21st century.
Governments were to achieve this by decreasing carbon emissions and working towards a net-zero carbon footprint by the second half of the 21st century.
The report by the IPCC clearly shows we have crossed the two-thirds mark of our goal of 1.5 C just a few years into the agreement. It also demonstrates how quickly the global warming can accelerate, and the future is dependent on the action we take now.
This realization is why the report has been coined as a 'wake-up call' for the international community, as the current policies and systems are insufficient to reach the Paris Agreement target. Indeed, the average global temperature is estimated to increase by 3 C by the end of the century if emissions remain as they are today.
Other key takeaways
The report highlights another major consequence of global warming: the rising of sea levels. The report notes that two metres of seal level rise could be possible by 2100, and up to five metres by 2150, if emissions are not reduced. Many coastal cities can face the danger of being submerged.
The report also notes that the rise of sea levels may be irreversible. The melting of the ice caps and glaciers at the poles is a slow process. Once underway, it can carry on for millennia. Reversal of atmospheric greenhouse gas levels will lead to reduced extremes in weather but may not decrease sea levels for thousands of years.
What does climate change mean for Australia?
Global warming has and will continue to affect every continent. Australia is no exception.
Australia is one of the driest countries globally, and global warming is only going to make things worse. Rainfall will decline, and droughts will become more frequent and prolonged.
The decreased rain and increased temperatures spell disaster for our forests, as seen by the increased bushfires in Southwestern Australia.
Global sea levels are approximated to rise by 1 meter by the end of the century. Therefore, many coastal communities face the real threat of being submerged by the sea.
An increase in water temperatures and CO2 levels will also cause acidification of seawater. Increased acid levels can cause harm to our marine life and bleaching of coral reefs, just like the event of 2016 that impacted more than a third of the Great Barrier Reef.
The second part of the IPCC report is expected to be released soon and will cover in more detail the consequences each part of the world can expect as a result of climate change.
What can be done about climate change?
The IPCC report makes it quite evident that humans are not doing enough to counter global warming. The third part of the report is expected to analyse current policies and regulations and provide scientifically proven ways to help reduce climate change.
Until it is released and governments refine their policy, it is important as responsible citizens to do as much as we can in an individual capacity.
Here are some things you can do to make a change:
- Speak up - voice your concern and opinion on public forums and social medial. Make sure your elected representatives are aware that you care about the issue. Pressure them to make better decisions aimed towards becoming carbon neutral.
- Try to decrease your carbon footprint - try to replace meat with vegetables, reduce water use, use energy-efficient appliances, prefer public transport, and shift to renewable energy.
- Partner with a reputable voluntary carbon offset program - you can only decrease your carbon footprint to a certain level. A carbon offset program runs projects that can decrease greenhouse gas emissions or reduce greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Partnering with them by purchasing offset units can compensate for your carbon emissions, helping you reach an individual net-zero!