Recently, a draft of the climate change report elaborated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been leaked by the Agence France-Presse, a French news agency. With no surprise from the scientists and experts, the document seems to outline a very bleak future for humanity. Even though the final parper will only be released by February 2022, the commission makes it clear that global heating consequences may be closer than what people commonly think. Even if greenhouse gas emissions were to decrease, the committee predicts that the alteration of the ecosystem beyond critical tipping points will inevitably generate a domino effect that will transform our day-to-day life. In the hope these projections will trigger both individual and global change, the IPCC has warned that “(L)ife on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems. Humans cannot”.
This study on global warming could signal a landmark in the campaign aimed at raising awareness on this issue. Indeed, with its 4000-pages long study, the panel’s report is the most far-reaching analysis on climate change to have been formulated until now and will show the scientific progress made in the last decades. Moreover, the other innovative feature of the document is its straightforward style of communication. The clear-cut approach will not only allow governments to better understand the Earth’s upcoming challenges but will also educate the wider population on what changes need to be set in place. Simon Lewis, a lecturer at University College London, has commented that “(T)he blunter language from the IPCC this time is welcome, as people need to know what is at stake if society does not take action to immediately slash carbon emissions”. The Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg has reacted stating that the document will allow society to “face reality” and that “many people are becoming more and more ready to tell it like it is”. Similarly, Zeke Hausfather, the director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, when talking about the study has stated that “(I)t's really important that policymakers understand the latest science on these issues in order to make decisions. And the IPCC in many ways is explicitly set up to inform policymakers”. Finally, the IPCC unfiltered approach, by comprehensively exposing the coming changes in the natural system, will allow to further highlight the unequal impact that the climate crisis will have. For example, the document indicates that areas such as Africa or South-East Asia might be hit harder, with 80% of their population potentially being exposed to famine risks.
Although not completed, the IPCC study highlights four key elements that need to be taken into consideration to face the climatic challenges ahead.
The first takeaway is that the global ecosystem’s temperature has already risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius and this heat increase will already significantly modify our future. A decade ago, experts believed that there would be no substantial changes were the atmosphere’s warming to increase by 2 degrees Celsius more than the mid-19th century’s level. This finding was officially recognized in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which pledged to restrict a temperature increment to 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, the committee’s document seems to contradict this hypothesis, arguing that “(E)ven at 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, conditions will change beyond many organisms’ ability to adapt”. The second point is that we must face catastrophic disasters, adding that “(C)urrent levels of adaptation will be inadequate to respond to future climate risks”. The world must prepare to deal with diverse risks such as chronic hunger, poverty, heatwaves, deadly floods and storms, and water shortage. A first-hand experience of the world’s unpreparedness to international emergencies was clearly visible in facing the Coronavirus pandemic. Thus, it is imperative to proactively prepare for the next challenges because as Stefanie Tye, researcher at the World Resources Institute’s Climate Resilience Practice, commented “(T)he effects and shocks of climate change will strain health systems even more, for a much longer period, and in ways that we are still trying to fully grasp”. Thirdly, scientists warn that going beyond the “tipping points”, specific climate conditions, will provoke a cascading effect engendering widespread change. Lastly, the IPCC has stated that even though the coming decades seem bleak, many actions can be taken to limit the damages’ extent. Examples that could limit catastrophes are the preservation of blue-carbon ecosystems, such as mangroves, savannahs or wetlands, and the promotion of plant-based nutrition which could decrease the emissions from food up to 70% by 2050. However, the IPCC urges for a structural change, claiming “(W)e must redefine our way of life and consumption”. It goes on to comment that “(W)e need transformational change operating on processes and behaviours at all levels: individual, communities, business, institutions and governments”.
Although scientists and climate observers were already aware of the calamitous conditions of the world to come, the climate change document could have a widespread impact and raise awareness at the population level. The unfinished study comes at a crucial time, when a record-breaking heatwave of almost 50 degrees Celsius crossed Canada, causing more than 130 casualties in a couple of days. Even though researchers have been cautious on directly connecting this event with climate change, they have nonetheless warned that extreme events such as unbearable heatwaves will become more common with the ecosystem’s alteration. Therefore, it’s time to move on from empty governmental promises and truly realize that future generations’ life and survival is at stake. The IPCC report should work as a wake-up call and a stern warning that we, both as society and individuals, cannot delay or refuse to acknowledge this emergency any further.
Written by Cinzia Saro
Cinzia Saro is a columnist at DecipherGrey.