What is the impact of climate change?
On August 9th 2021, the UN delivered their latest climate change report in which they reiterated that human activity is changing our climate at an unprecedented rate, some of which is now irreversible.
Stark warnings were issued about what we should expect as the planet continues to warm, unfortunately it doesn’t make for pleasant reading.
In summarising, the UN secretary general called the report a ‘code red for humanity’, although it did equally call out that a climate catastrophe could still be averted, but only if we combine forces and act with meaning and without delay.
Why is our planet warming?
The study concludes that the changes we are now seeing in our climate, not least the warming of our atmosphere, oceans and land, are ‘unequivocally' linked to human influence and its post-industrial activity. In short, the more Co2 and methane emissions that build in our atmosphere (greenhouse gasses), the less chance thermal energy from the sun has to escape, meaning our planet becomes warmer than it would naturally.
As a result we can now expect with certainty more extreme weather events over the coming years. Heatwaves like the ones recently seen in Greece and North America, and flooding like those in Germany and China, alongside drought, famine and ocean level rises will become far more prevalent if human activity doesn’t change drastically. It may seem somewhat contradictory to expect more rainfall, but warmer air holds more water, therefore the more intense the rainfall when it comes.
Does it have to be this bad?
Although sobering, if we act now the outcome of the climate crisis can be averted. The UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) still predicts that whatever we do, temperatures will still reach 1.5℃ by 2040 - this is actually expected to happen around 2034. However, by cutting emissions, we could keep warming at 1.5 degree and halt further temperature increases beyond this. As a reference, global temperatures have currently hit 1.1℃ of warming since pre-industrial periods.
If we can cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 we stand a real chance of halting temperatures increases. The combination of clean energy usage, carbon capture technology, and working with nature to revitalise & reforest will play a significant part in this recovery.
Never before have our collective choices around how we use energy, consume resources, make purchases, dispose of waste, and support our natural environment been so important. But this is achievable!
5 key IPCC report findings
1. Global temperatures
Global surface temperatures were 1.1℃ higher in the decade between 2011 and 2020 when compared to the period between 1850 and 1900. The past five years have also been the hottest since pre-industrial times.
Humans now emit around 40bn tonnes of Co2 each year meaning a total of 2400bn tonnes of manmade emission have entered our atmosphere thus far. A further 500bn tonnes will almost certainly scupper the chance of capping global temperature increases to 1.5℃.
3. Sea levels
Recent sea level rises have tripled when compared to the period between 1900 and 1970.
4. Sea ice
Human influence is “very likely” the main driver impacting the retreat of glaciers and Arctic sea ice. Essentially, ice is melting faster than it can be replaced which is also contributing to rising sea levels.
5. Weather patterns
High temperature extremes in the form of drought and heatwaves have become more frequent and intense since the 1950s, while cold events have become less frequent and severe. You only need to think back to the winters of the 1990s to see the contrast over such a short timescale.