IPCC Climate Report: Code Red for Humanity

Here a mother and son are seen leaving their home and belongings to follow the road flooded till chest, to move towards a place of shelter. While two people carrying gas cylinders are also trying to move in the road as well.
Location: Maharajpur Union, Mothbari Village.
Time: 27th May, 2021

The United Nations has released its latest report on the climate crisis- IPCC’s sixth assessment report. And it’s not pretty. Rightly quoted by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, this report has been called a “code red for humanity”.

Compiled by more than 200 scientists, the report found that we must pursue “without immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach”.

To give a bit of background, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a group established by the UN and founded in 1988. It is made up of a collection of climate scientists who assess published research to create comprehensive pictures of the state of climate change, and what is needed to tackle it. The IPCC consists of three working groups, each with a specialty. Working Group I (WG1) analyses the physical climate system; Working Group II (WG2) examines the natural and socio-economic impacts of climate change; and Working Group III (WG3) looks into assessment of mitigation options. The latest report is from WG1, and its very clear: there is still hope. If and only if we take immediate action. The urgency has never been so vital to our existence. Essentially, this report confirms and provides evidence to what we already knew: things are bad, and not getting any better. It adds certainty to the fact that climate change is affecting our natural world and human activity is to be blamed for it. However, there is still time to mend our ways and avoid the worst of the climate crisis if we act within a narrow window. And that window is right here, right now.

Here are some of the key messages from the report:

  1. There is no doubt at all that human activity is causing the climate crisis. Indisputably, our activities have resulted in more severe and frequent heat waves, heavy rainfall and droughts. Extreme weather and sea-level rise are accelerating as a result of human driven climate change. To make matters worse, we have already emitted immense amounts of greenhouse gases and locked in further warming of the planet.
  2. Paris Agreement targets of limiting 1.5-2 degrees of warming will be beyond our reach unless we have deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions right away. We cannot reverse some changes in the climate system, however some can be slowed down if not stopped by limiting warming.
  3. Climate change is already affecting every region across the globe in a plethora of ways. The changes we are experiencing will increase if warming is not reduced. The direct impacts of climate change will become worse as the temperatures increase.
  4. The changes in the climate are widespread, rapid and intensifying. If global warming is capped at 2 degrees, the ocean watermark will go up about half a metre over the 21st century. It will continue rising to nearly two metres by 2300.
  5. Present-day global concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide are higher and rising faster than at any time in the past two million years. Methane and nitrous oxide, the second and third biggest contributors to global warming after carbon dioxide, have also increased.

The coming decade is pivotal in securing the future of the planet. As the report puts forthrightly, “with every additional increment of global warming, changes in extremes continue to become larger.”

The IPCC assessments have the purpose to be policy-prospective, meaning that they do not provide instructions on actions for the global society, they give a portrait of what’s happening and what could happen based on how much greenhouse gas is emitted. The ball then lies in the court of the people of the world, both collectively and individually, to prioritize climate action through many different avenues, be it governmental or personal. The forthcoming Working Group 3 report will delve into much more detail on options for keeping climate change in check across the globe, and the overall assessments combined should act as a Holy Grail for policymakers to hold on to the last speck of hope that remains in protecting the planet and sustaining the human race.

Photo: Hadi Uddin

Adeeba Nuraina Risha is a Research Associate in the Environment and Climate Change Research Team of BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University.