A new United Nations report by the IPCC has warned it is “unequivocal” that human activity is warming the planet, with the impacts of climate change already being felt around the world.
The IPCC reports are an assessment of all the available science on climate change – and although it is just over 40 pages long, there is a lot in the summary report.
It concludes it is “unequivocal” that human activity is not only warming the planet, it is causing rapid and widespread changes to land, atmosphere and oceans that are unprecedented for many centuries or even many thousands of years.
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What does IPCC stand for?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change.
It was established in 1988 to provide political leaders with scientific assessments on climate change, to help them make policy. Some 195 countries are now members of the IPCC.
The UN report is the first part of a global assessment of climate science by the IPCC.
It is the sixth such assessment the UN body has conducted, with the most recent one back in 2013/14.
Who are the scientists advising the UN on climate change?
The IPCC is divided into three working groups and a task force investigating physical science, climate change impacts and the mitigation of climate change.
It’s a voluntary team made up of 234 authors and editors – who have an overall aim to calculate greenhouse gas levels.
Author teams include scientists and experts from industry and from non-profit organizations who bring ‘valuable perspective’ to the assessment.
This latest study references more than 14,000 scientific papers, which have received tens of thousands of comments on earlier drafts from scientists and governments.
Most importantly, the 41-page summary of the report has been subject to a line-by-line approval process involving scientists and representatives of the 195 governments before it is published – which has taken place online over the last two weeks.
That means that governments have signed off on the findings.
What does the 2021 report say?
The world will reach or exceed temperature rises of 1.5C over the next two decades, the limit set by the Paris Climate agreement, with further rises extremely likely without rapid action to reduce emissions.
Average temperatures have risen by 1.1C since the latter half of the 19th century, but scientists say the increase could be stabilised at 1.5C.
Even if temperatures are stabilised at 1.5C, sea level rises, melting Arctic ice and ocean acidification are likely to be inevitable, though further rises to 2C would mean even graver consequences and more extreme weather events.
Sea levels could also rise by at least 28cm-55cm in a best case scenario, or several metres at worst, causing devastation for coastal communities and waves of mass migration out of uninhabitable areas.
The report has been released less than 100 days before world leaders gather in Glasgow for a crucial UN climate summit, known as Cop26.
The summit has been billed as the last best chance of keeping global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, seen as a threshold beyond which the worst impacts of climate change will be felt.
It will ramp up the pressure on governments to provide clear action plans for how they will cut their nation’s emissions in the next decade and beyond in the run-up to the talks, as the world is currently well off track to meet the 1.5C goal.
Scientists involved in the report are clear that the 1.5C or 2C thresholds are not cliff edges that the world will fall off, but that every bit of warming makes a difference, so it is important to curb temperature rises as much as possible.
And while governments can ignore the latest findings, they cannot disagree with them – as they have already approved the report.
Additional reporting by PA.