6th Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
How Hot is Too Hot?
The 6th and latest report came out last week from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international body of scientist convened by the United Nations in 1988. The bottom line of the report derived from 195 scientists reviewing 14,000 scientific studies from around the world is that global warming is going to intensify over the next 30 years, though there is a short window to prevent the most devastating of possible scenarios.
Humans have warmed the globe 1.1 degrees Celsius or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, since the industrial revolution of the 19th century by burning coal, gas and oil for energy. The consequences of this increased heat have been felt around the globe. This year alone heat waves scorching Canada have killed hundreds, devastating floods have ravaged Germany and China, wildfires have been out of control on the west coast of the United States, Siberia, Turkey and Greece.
The slow response of nations to combat climate change means that a 1.5 degree increase in global temperatures is all but certain over the next 20-30 years. This will translated into even more severe droughts, life-threatening heat waves, sea level increases and the loss of many animal species who will not be able to adapts. Coral reefs and large swaths of fish life will die off, increasing food shortages, especially for the poor.
The future is not hopeless, however. There is the possibility of mitigation with a coordinated effort among the countries which emit the highest levels of CO2. The 10 biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are, in order: China, the United States, the European Union, India, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran and Canada. President Biden has pledged to eliminate America’s net carbon emissions by 2050. China has vowed to become carbon neutral by 2060. If these countries follow through and others step up, an increase of global temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius is possible. Additional actions of sharply reducing methane gas emissions from agriculture and oil/gas drilling could help even more.
In short, the future will be hot, but we have some agency in how hot it will get. The IPCC has interactive maps tracking the impact of 1.5, 2, 3 and 4 degree increases on the various regions in the world. The next decade will be crucial for the history of the planet as we know it. All the more reason to act boldly before it is too late.