Climate change is becoming more pervasive, quick, and intense — The IPCC report explained
On the 8th of August 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published their report on global warming, reaching 1.5 °C over pre-industrial levels. The report concluded that global warming is indeed anthropogenic (man-made), that its consequences are drastically threatening the future of mankind, and that swift and decisive action needs to be taken in order to avert the worst. The report was widely echoed in the media.
Who & What?
Who is the IPCC?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed by both the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in 1988.
Its purpose is to assess the development of climate change and its understanding, as well as to provide strategies against global warming.
It consists primarily of volunteers from all walks of the scientific community (biologists, meteorologists, physicists, economists, social scientists etc.) accordingly organised into various working groups.
What do they do, and what do they not do?
The scientist volunteers gather, assess, and summarise the available scientific information regarding climate change. This information is then distilled into reports, including Summaries for Policymakers (SPMs).
The IPCC does not conduct its own research, it is a meta-research organisation.
The work of the IPCC is organised into periods, and these periods are concluded with a report.
The first report was published in 1990 (with a supplementary report published in 1992).
The current period is the sixth and the final report is due in 2022.
This report will be published in instalments, and the document published on the 8th of August 2021 mentioned above represents the findings of Working Group I.
Who & What?
The document in question begins with the statement that
“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.”
When discussing climate change and the rate at which it occurs, the reference point against which current temperatures are measured is the year 1850, a somewhat arbitrarily set starting point for the industrialisation. Anthropogenic influence on the climate before this cut-off point is seen as negligible.
The report goes on to say that ‘each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850.” The average temperature on earth is now 1.09 °C higher than it was in 1850. The effect is more pronounced over land than over sea.
The reported values are the result of both natural and man-made warming and cooling effects, where the man-made warming is primarily attributed to Green-House Gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides, and the man-made cooling is primarily attributed to ozone depletion.
Factors such as the increased average global precipitation over land has since 1950, the change in storm tracks, globally retreating glaciers, melting of the Arctic ice cap amongst many others are all attributed to human influence, albeit with varying degrees of confidence.
The report continues to say that
“the scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole and the present state of many aspects of the climate system are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years.”
It also states that “human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.
Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence, has strengthened.”
What that means in practice is what certain regions in Belgium, Western Germany, Greece and India have experienced this summer.
The central statement of the document is this:
“Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered.
Global warming of 1.5 °C and 2 °C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”
In plain English:
If we continue to emit GHGs are the current rate, the average temperature will be more than 2 °C higher than in 1850. Achieving an increase in average temperature of only 1.5 °C will require massive cuts in GHG emissions.
Another important statement is this:
“Many changes in the climate system become larger in direct relation to increasing global warming.
They include increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, and heavy precipitation, agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions, and proportion of intense tropical cyclones, as well as reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.”
In other words, occurrences such as the floods certain regions in Belgium, Western Germany, and India had to endure this summer will occur more frequently and more violently.
Such events are estimated to be 7% more likely per 1 °C of temperature increase.
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