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#Analize / Mălina Mîndruțescu

New UN climate change report exposes damning evidence on the state of the planet. The main cause? Mankind

On Monday, a major new scientific report released by the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) stated that climate change is widespread, is intensifying at great speed and it is predominantly man-made.

The report, which has been drawn out by one of the most respected climate monitoring bodies in the world, stated that “the planet is warming at a rate not seen in 2,000 years, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are at their highest in 2 million years; the shift in the climate is leading to increasingly erratic and extreme weather events; and human activity is without a doubt responsible for (almost) all of it. It delivers “a code red for humanity”, reports the Washington Post.

The UN report states that “climate change is not a problem of the future, it’s here and now and effecting every region in the world”. With cases of extreme heat becoming ever more frequent, with sea levels continuing to rise, increases in extreme rainfall and omnipresent greenhouse gas emissions, the findings of the report are not optimistic.

What the report has done in a very assertive manner is pinpoint that the cause of global warming is without a doubt human-made: it makes it very clear that humankind is the principal and clearest actor that is driving the state of the planet into a worsening condition.

Climate change – code red for humanity

This situation delivers “a code red for humanity,” said U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, who has spent much of his tenure in Turtle Bay urging greater political action in the face of global warming. “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet,” he added.

However, a catastrophe can be averted if the world acts fast, reports the scientific community. One hope is that a massive cut in greenhouse gas emissions can at least partially limit the speed at which the world is getting hotter. According to the UN report, even if nations started sharply cutting emissions today, total global warming is likely to rise around 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades, a hotter future that is now essentially locked in.


Photo source: Reuters


The BBC reports that when the last IPCC report on the science of climate change was published in 2013, the idea of 1.5C being the safe global limit for warming was barely considered.

But in the political negotiations leading up to the Paris climate agreement in 2015, many developing countries and island states pushed for this lower temperature limit, arguing that it was a matter of survival for them.

A special report on 1.5C in 2018 showed the advantages of staying under the limit were massive compared to a 2C world. Getting there would require carbon emissions to be cut in half, essentially, by 2030 and net zero emissions reached by 2050. Otherwise, the limit would be reached between 2030 and 2052.

floods in europe

Photo source: Reuters


This new report re-affirms this finding. Under all scenarios, the threshold is reached by 2040. If emissions aren’t reined in, 1.5C could be gone in around a decade.

The report attributed essentially all of the rise in global average temperatures since the 19th century to humans burning fossil fuels, clearing forests and loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane that trap heat.

It has prompted outrage among vulnerable countries, whose leaders demanded that richer powers immediately reduce their emissions and help fund preparations for a perilous future.

It’s Grim

Whether that dramatic — and, as the scientific community insists, necessary — transition comes to pass is another matter. On some fronts, humanity is already too late. Limiting warming to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels looks to be a lost cause, with some models projecting the planet could reach that stage as early as the next decade. Temperatures are bound to get hotter in coming decades, the result, in part, of the failures of governments to heed years of warnings from climate scientists.

If warming increases beyond an average of 2 degrees Celsius — a trajectory that is possible absent significant curbs in global emissions — humanity veers into further uncharted territory. It would see the inexorable collapse of the Greenland ice sheet and a sea-level rise of more than six feet. That would inundate coastal communities and lead to a cascade of other societal and environmental effects, from surges in climate refugees to the vanishing of coral reefs.

climate change satellite

Photo source: Copernicus/Sentinel-2


Critics contend that the Biden administration is not serious enough. Since taking office, it has issued more than 2,000 approvals for companies to drill for oil and gas on public lands, while still couching its climate agenda in terms friendly to fossil fuel companies.  “The report has made clear that the climate in which this country became a superpower no longer exists. So why are politicians stuck on twentieth-century answers to the twenty-first century’s problems?” says New Republic.

But humanity is not close either to the IPCC’s most optimistic scenario, which calls for global carbon emissions to be cut to “net zero” around the midway point of this century. Attention is shifting to a November summit in Glasgow, Scotland, where world leaders are facing mounting pressure to act.

In coming years, they may be presented with less of a choice. “It’s now become actually quite obvious to people what is happening, because we see it with our own eyes,” says  Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate science at the University of East Anglia and a contributor to the IPCC assessment, told the Washington Post.

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Photo source: Getty Images

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