Climate COP26 report

Code red for humanity

As the leaders of the world convene in Glasgow to address the challenge of battling climate change, the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres will be ringing in their ears. “Code red for humanity,” was how the Secretary-General greeted the publication of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

“The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse‑gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk,” Guterres said in a statement that accompanied the release of the report. “Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.”

It is against the backdrop of this alarming IPCC report that the world’s leaders will meet and attempt to enshrine into law targets that will mitigate and minimise the future damage that would be wrought on the earth if nothing were to be done. The report has found that the agreed upon limit to temperature rise, 1.5ºC, is “perilously close” as things stand, with the earth “already at 1.2ºC and counting” and at “imminent risk of hitting 1.5ºC in the near term”.

Key among the findings in the report are:

  • Sea levels have risen at their fastest rate in 3,000 years over the last century, with the world’s oceans rising at a level of roughly four millimetres per year in the last decade (1.5 inches per decade). The two main reasons for this escalation are that water expands as it grows warmer, and the melting of glaciers and ice sheets is adding to the level;
  • Global heating means that the type of heat waves that would to occur once every 10 years are now happening more than twice as often, with extreme heat waves likely to happen once every 50 years now almost five times more likely, occurring roughly once a decade. If the world reaches 2ºC of warming, these severe heat waves could be 14 times as likely to occur as they were in pre-industrial times;
  • Extreme droughts that would occur once a decade are now occurring 70 per cent more frequently; and
  • Heavy rains have become about 30 per cent more frequent, and they contain about 7 per cent more water on average. The number of severe hurricanes and typhoons has also likely increased since the 1970s due to the climate crisis. With the limiting of global heating to 1.5ºC, heavy rain is still projected to increase in Europe, North America, and most of Africa and Asia.

Under the Paris Agreement, almost all of the world’s nations agreed to limit temperature rises to 2ºC and aim for a limit of 1.5ºC; a UNFCCC report on national climate action plans published on the heels of the IPCC report found that current measures would only bring global heating down to a level of 2.7ºC.

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” the report says. “Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.” At COP26, the governments of the earth will know that it is also unequivocal that only human influence can halt this process; the first steps will be agreed among them in Glasgow.

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