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IPCC’s final climate warning: Earth is on the brink of irreversible damage



The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently released its report for 2023, and the message is clear: the Earth is on the brink of irreversible damage due to climate change. The report is the culmination of years of research by thousands of scientists and experts from around the world, and it paints a stark picture of the consequences of inaction.

The report states that human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, has caused the planet to warm by approximately 1.1°C since pre-industrial times. This may not sound like much, but the effects are already being felt in every corner of the world- more frequent and severe heat waves, more intense and longer-lasting droughts, frequent floods, much intense hurricanes, and the loss of biodiversity. The report shows that these risks will only continue to grow as temperatures rise.

The report also warns that the worst is yet to come. Without significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the planet could warm by 1.5°C as early as 2030, and by 2°C by the end of the century. These temperature increases may not seem significant, but they are enough to trigger a cascade of disastrous consequences.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said, “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”

IPCC set out the devastation that has already been inflicted on swathes of the world. The report warns that extreme weather caused by climate breakdown has led to increased deaths from intensifying heatwaves in all regions, millions of lives and homes destroyed in droughts and floods, millions of people facing hunger, and “increasingly irreversible losses” in vital ecosystems.

The price of delay

More than 3bn people already live in areas that are “highly vulnerable” to climate breakdown, the IPCC found, and half of the global population now experiences severe water scarcity for at least part of the year. Since the IPCC published its first report in 1990, the IPCC has been warning of these impacts for more than 30 years. We have failed to reverse the 200-year trend of increasing greenhouse gases.

The world heats up in response to the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, so every year in which emissions continue to rise eats up the available “carbon budget”, which means much more drastic cuts will be needed in future years.

The report also highlights the fact that climate change is not just an environmental issue; it is also a social and economic issue. The impacts of climate change will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable communities, including those in low-lying areas, those dependent on agriculture, and those without access to reliable sources of water and food. The economic costs of inaction will also be significant, with estimates suggesting that the global economy could lose trillions of dollars if temperatures continue to rise.

Guterres called on governments to take drastic action to reduce emissions by investing in renewable energy and low-carbon technology. He said rich countries must try to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions “as close as possible to 2040″, rather than waiting for the 2050 deadline most have signed up to.

He said: “The climate time bomb is ticking. But today’s report is a how-to guide to defuse the climate timebomb. It is a survival guide for humanity. As it shows, the 1.5°C limit is achievable.”

John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, said, “Today’s message from the IPCC is abundantly clear: we are making progress, but not enough. We have the tools to stave off and reduce the risks of the worst impacts of the climate crisis, but we must take advantage of this moment to act now.”

In response to the report, Peter Thorne, the director of the Icarus climate research centre at Maynooth University in Ireland, said next year global temperatures could breach the 1.5°C limit, though this did not mean the limit had been breached for the long term. “We will, almost regardless of the emissions scenario given, reach 1.5°C in the first half of the next decade,” he said. “The real question is whether our collective choices mean we stabilise around 1.5°C or crash through 1.5°C, reach 2°C and keep going.”

 ‘There is still hope’

Calling the report a “how-to guide to defuse the climate time-bomb,” Guterres mentioned an “acceleration agenda” that would speed up global actions on climate.

Emerging economies including China and India — which plan to reach net zero in 2060 and 2070, respectively — must hasten their emissions-cutting efforts alongside developed nations, Guterres said.

The IPCC report makes it clear that it is still possible to avoid the worst effects of climate change, but only if significant action is taken immediately. The report suggests a range of measures that could be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including the use of renewable energy, the electrification of transport, the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices, and the conservation of forests and other natural ecosystems. The report also highlights the importance of international cooperation and the need for all countries to work together to address the climate crisis.

The IPCC’s final climate warning should serve as a wake-up call to individuals, businesses, and governments around the world. The planet can’t afford further delays or finger-pointing, the U.N. chief said.

Demanding others move first only ensures humanity comes last and we don’t have a moment to lose.