28th February 2022
The IPCC has produced its second report in its sixth assessment (AR6) cycle; focusing on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. This follows on from the first report which came out in August 2021. That stark report said that, “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.”
The new report released today is even more alarming. Some have called it one of the most important reports released in human history. It says with ‘high confidence’ that, “Widespread, pervasive impacts to ecosystems, people, settlements, and infrastructure have resulted from observed increases in the frequency and intensity of climate and weather extremes, including hot extremes on land and in the ocean, heavy precipitation events, drought and fire weather.” In other words, the climate crisis is already having profound impacts across the world. Ecosystems are being degraded. Biodiversity lost. Society is suffering and things will get worse.
Yet, there is still a window to change course. It will require a massive unified global undertaking, but it can be done. If we don’t act, the future looks bleak. As Fiona Harvey says in her Guardian article, the “window to secure a liveable future is closing.” That should give concern to everyone, everywhere.
The Summary for Policymakers report is comprehensive. The impacts it lists are so vast, that it almost reads like everything will be affected. For each impact, it states ‘confidence’ levels. A small selection of impacts include:
- Mortalities are being recorded, which are associated with heat extremes (medium confidence)
- Coral bleaching and coral reef death has been recorded (high confidence)
- Droughts have led to the death and loss of trees (high confidence)
- Wildfires are burning in more areas around the world (medium to high confidence)
- Worsening impacts from tropical cyclones as a result of sea level rise and heavy precipitation are noted (medium confidence)
- Ocean acidification, sea level rise and regional decreases in rainfall have been observed (high confidence)
- Ecosystems spanning coastal, open ocean, freshwater and terrestrial biomes have experienced “substantial damages, and increasingly irreversible losses” (high confidence)
- Ecosystems have deteriorated, and their resilience and capacity to adapt has been impacted by the climate crisis. Seasonal shifts and timings (e.g. spring arriving earlier) have already occurred (high confidence)
- Around 50% of species have moved polewards, or in some cases have moved to mountainous and higher elevations (very high confidence)
- Worsening heat extremes are behind hundreds of species lost on a local level (high confidence), and this is also behind larger loss of species in the ocean and on land (very high confidence)
- Some species loss is now irreversible due to extinction that has come about by the climate crisis (medium confidence)
- The threat of irreversible impacts is increasing, such as glacier retreat (medium confidence) and permafrost thaw in the Arctic (high confidence)
- Food and water security have been threatened by the climate crisis.
- Physical and mental health has been affected by the climate crisis (very high confidence)
- Anxiety and stress associated with the climate crisis are expected to increase in all regions, with a particular effect on children, adolescents, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions (very high confidence)
- Trauma in some regions has been associated with climate related extreme weather events (very high confidence)
- All areas have seen human death and morbidity from extreme heat events (very high confidence)
- Diseases that are spread through water and food have increased (very high confidence)
- Dengue will pose a greater threat to humanity, with billions of people potentially at risk by the end of the century (high confidence)
- Human and animal diseases (including zoonoses) are being seen in new areas (high confidence)
- Aeroallergens, wildfire smoke and other particles have been linked to “climate-sensitive cardiovascular and respiratory distress” (high confidence)
- Heatwaves have intensified in cities (high confidence)
- “Infrastructure, including transportation, water, sanitation and energy systems have been compromised by extreme and slow-onset events, with resulting economic losses, disruptions of services and impacts to wellbeing (high confidence).”
- One billion people are predicted to be at risk in low-lying cities from coastal risks (e.g. sea level rise and flooding events) in the mid-term for all assessed scenarios of warming (high confidence)
While this list is not exhaustive, it gives an idea of the future we’re heading towards. Given that we can reduce the effects of the climate crisis by limiting temperature rises to 1.5C, and that some scientists believe that we are almost certain to bypass this target and instead hit around 2C of temperature rises, it provides added urgency to all members of society to put pressure on their politicians for immediate action. Nothing else will suffice.
According to Damian Carrington’s Guardian article, the report was compiled by, “1,000 physical and social scientists and unanimously approved by the governments of 195 nations,” and was, “Based on 34,000 studies.”
It’s worth stressing once again that humanity largely became aware of the climate crisis in June 1988, when Dr James Hansen gave his US Senate Testimony. The science has become clearer in the intervening 34 years. The warning calls have grown louder. The damage wrought can no longer be ignored. If we fail at this moment to put pressure on our politicians, then it may just be that we lose control of our habitable climate. A scenario that will see today’s children and any future generation look back on us with justified rage. Avoiding that, and building a better world lies squarely on our shoulders. Shifting the political needle for structural change is the most important task we have. Demand your local politicians act to address the climate crisis, or that they step down. This is the task for every person at this critical moment.
My new cli-fi children’s picture book is Nanook and the Melting Arctic. Nanook is a caring polar bear who lives in the Arctic. But when his igloo starts melting, Nanook must find a way to save his friends and his home. He knows that the people who can help are also those who’ve caused the problem and he must find a way to convince leaders to act on the climate crisis. You can purchase Nanook from Amazon’s global stores including Amazon UK and Amazon US.