Red Code for the Humanity
After a weekend of foreboding among climate wonks, the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I released its contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis on Monday. This is the first of three working group contributions to be released over the next 9 months before the IPCC releases the final assessment report in the fall of 2022.
With each report building off the others, this first report focuses on what the science itself says, an aggregation of the evidence to date, and what that means for our future — most of which looks bleak.
For those climate wonks who spent the weekend stressed about the pending report, most of the findings are unsurprising, but shocking nonetheless. As the world’s unrivaled authority on climate change, the IPCC and 234 scientists pulled together and assessed the findings from over 14,000 peer-reviewed studies. They determined that, “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” Furthermore, many impacts from past and future emissions will be irreversible for centuries or millennia.
The IPCC assessment reports are famously conservative interpretations of the current science because the final conclusions and statements must be agreed to by all 195 member countries. A report with words like “unequivocal” and “irreversible” is deadly serious. The warning is clear — and has been for years — life on Earth will become exponentially more difficult if we don't cut emissions. And that means we must stop burning fossil fuels — fast. IPCC Working Group I (WGI): Sixth Assessment Report.
Even if the world’s citizenry manages to come together and zero out emissions in the near future — a very tall order — many problems are baked in. For example, scientists are now saying sea levels will rise more than previously expected, adding a half a foot or more to earlier predictions. Notably, scientists also declared that the small chance of major Antarctic ice sheets collapsing and leading to catastrophic sea level rise this century, cannot be ruled out.
In all five scenarios studied, Earth reaches 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by mid century, meaning our best hope is to be on a path to cooling by then rather than continued warming.
However depressing the latest report may be, there is still reason for hope. Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund writes for CNN that we can be hopeful because cutting short-lived pollutants such as methane, which is responsible for more than 25 percent of warming, is within reach. That would make a big difference. The bottom line — we know what the problem is and we have the solutions. We just need the will.