The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released the report of Working Group I for the 6th Assessment, detailing the latest consensus scientific findings on dangerous climate disruption. The report, approved by consensus of 195 governments, makes clear:

  • Human activity is destabilizing Earth’s climate—the scientific evidence is “unequivocal”;
  • Dangerous global heating of 1.5ºC will arrive by 2040;
  • Action to end global heating pollution must be swift and pervasive;
  • Only in the most ambitious climate action scenario can warming be brought back below 1.5ºC, by the end of the century.

The A.1 finding is decisive and must inform policy in all areas, going forward:

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 IPCC’s Assessment Reports are major global scientific undertakings, pulling together the work of thousands of scientists, and considering the full body of peer-reviewed studies and observed climatic change. Given the scale of disinformation regarding climate science, it is important to note that the IPCC considers real evidence of uncertainty, questions about specific climate models, and the influence of natural variability. Its findings are authoritative precisely because the full body of evidence is reviewed and consensus findings are reported.

So, what does this report say about the perils of global heating? To understand this, five temperature readings are critical, each corresponding to an increase in global average surface temperatures:

  • 1.2ºC – Where we are now.
  • 1.5ºC – The highest we can safely allow.
  • 2ºC – The measure many countries still cling to as a safe target.
  • 3ºC – Where current emissions reduction plans will leave us.
  • 4.4ºC – Where high-emissions pathways will take us.

The 4.4ºC finding is the worst of the “five futures” examined in the report. To understand what 4.4ºC of global heating would mean, you have to first understand that even 2ºC would be 67% more global heating than we have now, with climate impacts compounding, not simply increasing incrementally.

At 4ºC of global heating:

  • major climate patterns will be disrupted;
  • there is real concern climate-regulating ocean currents could collapse;
  • infrastructure, economies, and food systems, will no longer be fit for the destabilized climate;
  • rates of extinction and biodiversity collapse would accelerate;
  • the ability of human societies to sustain today’s populations in good health would be seriously undermined, so suffering, mass migration, and instability would be widespread.

We could reach 1.5ºC as early as 2030. The report projects the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice free in September at least once before 2050. The difference between white, reflective ice and dark open ocean water means an ice-free Arctic is not only an effect of global heating, but an accelerator. An ice-free Arctic could be a tipping point we cannot come back from.

The 6th IPCC Assessment Report presents a stark warning—the last of its kind that can be used to shape policy and practice before it is too late to avoid global heating above 1.5°C. Last month was the worst July on record for wildfires across the world. We are seeing far bigger and more devastating wildfires in North America than we saw in 2020—the worst year on record.

Major climate impacts ongoing across the world include:

The new IPCC report finds that major impacts from human-caused climate disruption are now pervasive.

What is clear from the latest observed and projected science, recognized by 195 national governments, and from the terrible effects of global heating now being experienced around the world, is that further exploration for, investment in, or infrastructure upgrades to support climate pollution is inexcusable. The cost to society, to food systems, to the financial system, to the biosphere, would be too great.

While we don’t yet have universal agreement on the specific analytical tools, it is inevitable that financial metrics will soon be in widespread use to minimize investor exposure to climate-related risk and liability. National economies that depend heavily on fossil fuel revenues must be rapidly overhauled to support a better, more viable future way of doing business.

This report marks the most unequivocal and universal recognition that there is no hiding from climate change. It is happening now; it is worse than previously expected; evidence of the human cause is unequivocal; we are at 1 hour to midnight. In the words of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres:

Today’s IPCC Working Group 1 Report is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening… The viability of our societies depends on leaders from government, business and civil society uniting behind policies, actions and investments that will limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We owe this to the entire human family, especially the poorest and most vulnerable communities and nations that are the hardest hit despite being least responsible for today’s climate emergency.

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