Coast KZN

10 Aug 2021

Code Red for humanity – there is no time for delay to avert a climate catastrophe – report finds

Dominic Naidoo (IOL) Picture: Ralf Vetterle/Pixabay

Our planet is hurtling towards a climate catastrophe and there’s not much time left to turn the tide before some parts of the world become uninhabitable, a report published this week by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found. The report also made it quite clear: Human activity is directly responsible for changing the climate in unprecedented ways and for causing irreversible damage to the planet.

The report includes important findings from a study conducted by an international group of scientists and is endorsed by the world’s governments. This sobering summation of the landmark study by the IPCC is the first major scientific review on climate change since 2013.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, says the report “is a code red for humanity” and “if we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as today’s report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses. I count on government leaders and all stakeholders to ensure COP26 is a success.”

In a confident, almost commanding tone, as if speaking directly to climate change denialists around the world, the document boldly states, “ it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land”.

Professor Ed Hawkins from the University of Reading says scientists could not be any clearer on this point – there is not a single shred of doubt that “we are responsible for what is happening to our climate”.

“It is a statement of fact; we cannot be any more certain; it is unequivocal and indisputable that humans are warming the planet.”;

The report is a huge wake-up call and provides scientific evidence which further solidifies what climate scientists have been saying for nearly 30 years: we are hurtling toward a point of no return. Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, says: “By using sports terms, one could say the atmosphere has been exposed to doping, which means we have begun observing extremes more often than before.”

According to the authors of the IPCC report, global temperatures have risen more in the last 50 years than over the past 2 000 years and the warming climate is already causing both weather and climatic extremes all over the world. Global Warming is no longer a problem that has only been seen to affect “eastern” parts of the world. Extreme weather phenomena such as the heatwaves and wildfires in Greece and North America and floods in Germany and China are happening now and are set to worsen if humanity does not act immediately.

The report has made it crystal clear that the last 50 years of global warming has made irreversible changes to our planet’s support systems, our global airstreams and ocean currents. These changes, if occurred naturally, would have taken centuries, even millennia to happen. Not decades. The oceans will continue to warm and become more acidic. Mountain and polar glaciers will continue melting for decades or centuries.

“The consequences will continue to get worse for every bit of warming, “ said, Prof Hawkins. “And for many of these consequences, there’s no going back.”

Scientists have used data obtained from the study to construct models which display a likely range of sea-level rise over the next century or so. The models suggest a rise of two metres by the end of this century and an extreme five-meter rise by 2150. Although these outcomes may seem unlikely at this point, these are still a possibility and could permanently displace millions of people living along the world’s coasts.

One key aspect of the report is the expected rate of temperature rise and what it means for the safety of humanity. Almost every country on Earth signed the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement agreeing to find and enact solutions that would keep global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius before the end of this century while aiming to keep it under 1.5 C. Using the latest data to plot updated future scenarios, the report states that these targets will not be achieved this century unless massive carbon cuts take place.

Some reported stories show five future impacts we will experience unless humanity works together to rapidly transform the way we interact with our planet. Temperatures will reach 1.5 C above 1850-1900 levels by 2040 under all emissions scenarios.

The Arctic is likely to be practically ice-free at least once before 2050 in all scenarios assessed. There will be an increasing occurrence of some extreme events “unprecedented in the historical record” even at a warming of 1.5C, the BBC reported. Extreme sea-level events which occurred once a century in the recent past are projected to occur at least annually at more than half of tidal gauge locations by 2100.

There will be likely increases in fire weather in many regions.

But, there is hope. If humanity can cut greenhouse emissions in half in the next nine years and reach zero emissions by 2050, we can stop and maybe even reverse an increase in temperatures. It is wildly optimistic, but it is not so much if we can do it but that we must.