The IPCC report on climate change – what it says and what we can do


The world’s largest report on climate change was released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations group of nearly 200 leading climatologists who have reviewed more than 14,000 scientific papers. It’s pretty dark – but far from hopeless. There are things that we all can and should all do. As US Senator Ed Markey says, “We cannot die – we have to organize. “

What is the IPCC? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a United Nations intergovernmental body founded in 1988. It is a group of scientists whose conclusions are endorsed by governments around the world.

Why is today’s IPCC report important? This is a comprehensive and up-to-date assessment of how global warming will change the world over the coming decades. It is also the biggest and most important call for global governments to take definitive action to slow warming. This is the first major review of the science of climate change since 2013 and precedes the climate summit, COP26, in Glasgow.

What does the IPCC report say about global warming? Here are the key points, which we took directly from the IPCC summary and put them in quotes. (Introductory summaries in bold are ours.)

The IPCC has noted what they are sure of – high confidence – and what they are not so sure of – medium confidence.

  • Humans have caused climate change. “It is estimated that human activities have caused about 1.0 ° C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range 0.8 ° C to 1.2 ° C. Global warming is likely reach 1.5 ° C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. (great confidence). ”
  • Greenhouse gas emissions will persist, but reaching net zero will help. “Warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial era to the present day will persist for centuries if not millennia and will continue to cause other long-term changes in the climate system, such as sea level rise, with associated impacts (great confidence), but these shows are by themselves unlikely cause global warming of 1.5 ° C (average confidence(great confidence). ”
  • It heats up, and finally it’s in our hands. “The climate-related risks for natural and human systems are higher for a global warming of 1.5 ° C than today, but below 2 ° C (great confidence). These risks depend on the extent and rate of warming, the geographic location, levels of development and vulnerability, as well as the choices and implementation of adaptation and mitigation options (great confidence). ”

What does the IPCC report say about the impacts and risks of climate change?

  • There is a big difference between 1.5C and 2C. “Climate models project significant differences in regional climate characteristics between current warming and global warming of 1.5 ° C, and between 1.5 ° C and 2 ° C. These differences include increases in: mean temperature in most land and ocean regions (great confidence), extreme temperatures in most inhabited regions (high confidence), heavy rainfall in several regions (average confidence), and the likelihood of drought and rainfall deficits in some areas (average confidence). ”
  • The sea level will rise, but we have the ability to slow it down. “By 2100, the global average sea level rise is expected to be about 0.1 meter lower with global warming of 1.5 ° C versus 2 ° C (average confidence). Sea level will continue to rise well beyond 2100 (great confidence), and the magnitude and rate of this increase depends on future emission trajectories. A slower rate of sea level rise allows for greater possibilities for adaptation in the human and ecological systems of small islands, low-lying coastal areas and deltas (average confidence). ”
  • If we reduce global warming, we can reduce the impacts on land. “On Earth, impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, including species loss and extinction, are expected to be less than 1.5 ° C of global warming compared to 2 ° C. Limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C against 2 ° C should reduce the impacts on terrestrial, freshwater and coastal ecosystems and retain more of their services to humans (great confidence). ”
  • We can reduce the rise in ocean temperature if we take action. “Limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C from 2 ° C is expected to reduce increases in ocean temperature as well as associated increases in ocean acidity and decreases in ocean oxygen levels (great confidence). Therefore, limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C should reduce the risks to marine biodiversity, fisheries and ecosystems, as well as their functions and services to humans, as illustrated by recent changes in the Arctic sea ice. and warm water coral reef ecosystems (great confidence). ”
  • Climate change will affect our lives, but we can reduce its impact. “Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth are expected to increase with global warming of 1.5 ° C and increase further with 2 ° C vs. “
  • We have the power to do something about climate change. “Most adaptation needs will be less for a global warming of 1.5 ° C against 2 ° C (great confidence). There is a wide range of adaptation options that can reduce the risks of climate change (great confidence). There are limits to the adaptation and adaptive capacity of some human and natural systems to a global warming of 1.5 ° C, with associated losses (average confidence). The number and availability of adaptation options vary by sector (average confidence). ”

What do you think of the bad news and the good news?

Bad news is that some planetary changes are now irreversible. The oceans will continue to warm and the glaciers will continue to melt. Either way, people living in coastal areas will have to adapt to rising sea levels.

Humans have already heated the planet by around 1.1 ° C since the 19th century, due to the combustion of fossil fuels.

Scientists who wrote the IPCC report believe 1.5 ° C will be reached by 2040, no matter what. If emissions are not reduced over the next few years, it will happen even sooner. But if we do nothing, it will be much worse.

The good news is that almost every country in the world is signatory to the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2C, and ideally below 1.5C.

And scientists are now certain that the net zero will measure up. In other words, positive steps we are taking will be to have an impact.

The more we reduce all our emissions by 2030, the more liveable our planet will be for us, our children and their descendants.

Here’s the gist:

If we reduce global emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050, we can stop and eventually reverse global warming.

Maisa Rojas Corradi, report author and climatologist at the University of Chile, says [via NPR]:

Is it still possible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees [Celsius]? The answer is yes.

But unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in all greenhouse gases, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees will be out of reach.

Are we doomed? No, if we do what we have to do. Dr Friederike Otto of the University of Oxford and one of the authors of the IPCC report, says [via the BBC]:

Lowering global warming really minimizes the likelihood of reaching those tipping points. We are not doomed.

How do we do that? We stop using fossil fuels for transportation, electricity and heat. We are moving to renewables and electric cars and other electrical devices. We are planting more trees. Let’s stop burning the Amazon.

As US Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), co-author of the Green New Deal resolution and chair of the Air Quality, Climate and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, states in a statement sent by mail electronic to Electrek on what the United States, the second largest emitter in the world behind China, can do:

We cannot agonize – we must organize, just like young people across the country and the world who are demanding action from their leaders. An intergenerational movement of climate leaders is calling on Congress to include major climate action in the budget reconciliation package – which is our best opportunity to respond with solutions to the impacts described by the IPCC. With policies to dramatically reduce emissions, protect communities from climate impacts, and deliver fairness and justice to overburdened communities, we can respond to the overwhelming evidence and take action to save our people and our planet.


If you read Electrek, then you know we hammer this point every day: Electric vehicles and clean energy are vital and inevitable.

The IPCC report gives governments and private companies more regional information and guidance, which strengthens autonomy. As the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states in an emailed statement:

NOAA will use the new information in this report to inform the work it does with communities to prepare for, respond to and adapt to climate change.

And while governments and private companies must take the lead in embracing renewable energy and clean transportation, it is also up to each of us to make changes.

Here’s the good news: Renewables and electric cars are fun – seriously. As some of you may know, I got rid of our two gasoline cars this summer and bought my first Tesla Model 3:

Not only am I happy not to spit out any emissions, but I have never had so much fun driving. And I think those of you who have read my colleague Micah Toll’s articles on e-bikes, motorcycles, and scooters have probably noticed that he’s having a lot of fun, too.

You can do your part. Find out how to go solar or wind – and observe the drop in the cost of your electricity bill. Stop natural gas as quickly as possible. Walk and cycle more, drive less, take public transport. And if you can’t drive less, go electric. It’s going to get easier and easier to do, and renewables are quickly getting cheaper.

Our greatest threat is inaction. Take responsibility for yourself and do what you can. Everything is at stake.

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