Devastating climate impacts that will fundamentally change life on this planet are accelerating and set to become clear before a child born today turns 30, according to a leaked draft of the upcoming assessment by the UN’s leading climate scientists.
Unliveable heat, ecosystem collapse, species extinction, more diseases, and cities buckling under the onslaught of rising seas are a few consequences noted in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft report obtained by Agence France-Presse.
Even if still-rising greenhouse gas emissions, largely caused by burning fossil fuels, begin a downward slide, some of these impacts are already baked in. Communities must move much faster to prepare as “current levels of adaptation will be inadequate”, according to AFP’s report.
The IPCC’s 4,000-page sixth assessment is expected to be published in portions over the next year but will not be completely available until early 2022 – after world leaders meet at the UN biodiversity summit in Kunming, China this October and the crucial climate summit in Glasgow a month later.
The climate crisis is already bringing significant change to Earth systems. At present, the average global temperature is 1.1C above the pre-industrial era. The best-case scenario based on our current trajectory would result in 3C warming by 2100.
The 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by almost every nation, pledges to curb temperature rise to “well below” 2C, and aim for an increasingly ambitious 1.5C. (The World Meteorological Organization reported in May that the world will hit 1.5C in the next five years).
A key takeaway of the IPCC draft, according to AFP, is the danger of crossing thresholds known as “tipping points”, which scientists are only beginning to understand. The IPCC assessment highlights a dozen “temperature trip wires” in the climate system that could cascade into potential devastating change.
At 2C, the melting of Greenland and the West Antarctic’s ice sheets could become irreversible. They hold enough water to raise sea levels 43 feet (13 metres).
Further destruction of the Amazon, which one study shows has already “flipped” and emits more carbon pollution than it stores, could see it transformed into savannah.
In Siberia, the rapid thawing of the vast, carbon-rich, underground layer of ice and frozen dirt called permafrost is causing the region to warm faster than almost anywhere else on Earth, spewing billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.
“Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems,” the draft reportedly reads. “Humans cannot.”
The IPCC’s sixth assessment offers a stark choice: The decisions that nations make now will determine whether our species thrives or life becomes simply a matter of survival in the coming century.
“The worst is yet to come, affecting our children’s and grandchildren’s lives much more than our own,” says the report, according to AFP.
The report also underlines that humans continue to wreak havoc on some of our greatest allies in combatting global heating like the ocean and forests.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg told AFP that while the IPCC draft assessment confirmed that the “the situation is very dire” and urgent action was needed, she was also hopeful it “could wake people up”.
“We can of course not face this crisis unless we tell it like it is, unless we are adult enough to tell the truth, and to face the reality,” Ms Thunberg said.
The UN’s draft assessment also emphasises that there is still much that can be done to avoid the worst impacts.
Individual actions are important but “transformational change” is needed at all levels including businesses, institutions and governments, according to the report.
The draft report recommends better protection and restoration of “blue carbon ecosystems”, such as kelp and mangrove sea forests, which not only protect coastal communities from storm surges and create wildlife habitats but are effective at soaking up carbon.
As agriculture, forestry and other land use currently account for about 25 per cent of global emissions, the IPCC draft reports that a global shift to more plant-based diets could reduce emissions from the food sector by as much as 70 per cent by 2050.
In a statement toThe Independent, the IPCC said it was unable to comment as the report is not yet final and will go through further changes.
The IPCC added that the final approved and accepted version of the report is planned for release in February 2022, and at that point earlier drafts will also be issued.
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