In case you missed it, Monday 9th August 2021 was a big day in the climate science community. Actually, it was a big day for all of humanity. Monday was the release day of the IPCC’s new report on climate change. More specifically, it was the publication of the IPCC AR6 WI. But, what is the new IPCC report and what does it tell us about the planet’s current state? In this post, I attempt to summarise and highlight some key messages in the report for non-specialist readers like myself!
I’m not a scientist, and I’m not going to pretend for one second that I’ve read nor understood the full multi-thousand page report. However, I have read the summary for policy makers, which is an excellent resource if you’re looking to understand the main points. Moreover, I’ve linked some helpful resources below which explain climate science much better than I can!
My message for my readers is simple. This is important. Your life and the lives of your family, your friends, and your potential children depend on decisive, rapid, and ambitious mitigation and reduction in emissions. Take the time to engage with the report, talk to people about it and share your concerns! Contact your local government representatives and ask them what they’re going to do. Protest.
‘The scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole
and the present state of many aspects of the climate system are
unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years.’
(IPCC, 2021: Summary for Policy Makers)
What is the IPCC?
The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is a part of the United Nations, and this group of global leaders is “mandated to provide objective scientific information relevant to understanding human-induced climate change, its natural, political, and economic impacts and risks, and possible response options”. The new report AR6 is the sixth assessment report published by the IPCC, with the last report having been published in 2013. The WI stands for Working Group I – this is the group of experts examining The Physical Science Basis of climate change. There are two further publications due in 2022. These publications will be WGII – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, and WGIII – Mitigation of Climate Change. Climate Adam’s video below is a great overview of the IPCC, and what they do.
How is climate change affecting you?
The climate is changing, are we are already experiencing unpredictable weather and extreme weather events, plus rising sea levels and biodiversity loss. If you’re interested in finding out what could happen in your region as the global temperature continues to rise, the IPCC have developed an interactive atlas. They also have regional fact sheets that you can download. In Europe, for example, there is high confidence that regardless of future levels of global warming, temperatures will rise in all European areas at a rate exceeding global mean temperature changes. The sea level will rise, and a strong decline in glaciers, permafrost, and snow cover will continue.
Is this information new?
What makes this report important is that it’s a central location where we can find up-to-date scientific literature, which as been agreed by world governments and communicated using approved language. The information within the report isn’t new; it’s a synthesis of findings already available in a wide range of scientific studies. However, what is new in this 2021 report is type of language. Previous IPCC reports used tentative language to convey certainty whereas the language used now to describe human-driven climate change is definitive. Another advancement in this report compared to AR5 is the improvement in climate sensitivity and modelling, providing a narrower range of future scenarios. It will be crucial for government leaders and stakeholders to take all of this information on board and ensure that COP26 (the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties) is a success.
‘It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere,
ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere,
ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred’.
(IPCC, 2021: Summary for Policy Makers)
Key Points of the Report
Here are just some of the important findings highlighted in the WG1 report:
- Since 1970, global surface temperatures have risen faster than in any other 50-year period over the past 2,000 years.
- The past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850.
- Approximately 40bn tonnes of CO2 are emitted by humans every year.
- The Arctic is likely to be practically ice-free in September at least once before 2050 in all scenarios assessed.
- Methane accounts for 30-50% of the current rise in temperatures. This gas comes from agriculture, landfills, and oil/gas leaks.
- In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years.
- It is virtually certain that human–caused CO2 emissions are the main driver of current global acidification of the surface open ocean.
- Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid–century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C (Paris Agreement targets) will be exceeded during the 21st century, unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.
- Extreme weather events are likely to be more frequent and intense.
What strikes me as significant about this report is the time and energy devoted towards its creation. Think of all of the scientists who spend their lives researching climate science and painstakingly publishing their findings. Additionally, consider the group of 200 or so authors who distilled the findings of around 10,000 studies; these authors are unpaid, I might add. Factor in government representatives from around the world who read and agreed the wording of the report, the technical and support staff, journalists covering the publication and press conferences, and you have a hell of a lot of people working hard to save the planet. The very least we can do is read their work, take it seriously, and take action.