Anybody who’s watched the news over the past month will know that the effects of climate change are becoming too pressing to ignore.
Cologne’s devastating floods last month left 168 dead, thousands homeless and created damage estimated to total over six billion euros.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the equivalent of a year’s average rainfall fell in just three days in Zhengzhou, China, drowning commuters trapped on the subway system and leading to a mass evacuation event involving 200,000 people.
And whilst all this was going on, uncontrollable wildfires devastated parts of Canada, raising whole villages to the ground.
It sounds like the start of a disaster movie, but this is real life, just one month’s notable events in 2021.
Landmark report confirms the link
The new “Code Red” report published by the UN has confirmed that these extreme events are by no means flukes.
Put together by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the comprehensive report confirms that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans, and land.” The report’s authors support this position with a wealth of grim landmarks, including:
- The global surface temperature of the planet was 1.09C higher in the decade between 2011-2020 than between 1850-1900.
- The past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850.
- The recent rate of sea level rise has nearly tripled compared to 1901-1971.
- The main driver of the global retreat of glaciers since the 1990s and the decrease in Arctic sea-ice is human behaviour. We are responsible for 90% of the melt.
- It is “virtually certain” that heat extremes have become more frequent and more intense since the 1950s, while cold events have become less frequent and less severe.
One of the report’s authors, professor Ed Hawkins from the University of Reading, stated that “we cannot be any more certain; it is unequivocal and indisputable that humans are warming the planet.”
Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, said:
“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.”
Over the past fifty years, the temperature of our planet has risen faster than throughout any period over the past 2000 years. On the basis of this alone, the report cautions that, without remedial action, it is inevitable that we will see more intense heat waves, droughts, and flooding.
What can be done?
We are already perilously close to irreversible damage but scientists claim that we can stall global warming if we take immediate action.
If deep cuts in carbon emissions are committed to now, greenhouse gas emissions could stabilize. Frankly, this is one of our only hopes and must, at this juncture, be taken incredibly seriously by global leaders.
UN Secretary General António Guterres said: “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.”
This is echoed by Ruth Chapman, MD of renewables specialist Dulas. She writes that: “The hour is now. We must, as a global collective, take decisive action and mandate the immediate lowering of CO2. We saw what was possible during the first few months of Covid19. Simply by traveling less, we saw CO2 decreases of 11% in the EU.”
“What we can learn from this is that it is feasible to dramatically reduce human impact on the planet if necessary. Every leading nation needs to take an aggressive approach towards making renewables the dominant energy source, and this needs to be ratified at COP26.”
The “Code Red” report is the first major review of the science of climate change since 2013. Its release comes less than three months before the climate summit in Glasgow is due to take place.
The report’s findings will place greater urgency around the task of cutting emissions and COP’s host, the UK, is already showing signs of leading the charge.
The UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson states that the “report makes for sobering reading… we know what must be done to limit global warming – consign coal to history and shift to clean energy sources, protect nature and provide climate finance for countries on the frontline.”
The UK government has already adopted a firm 2035 deadline for a 78% emissions cut, and this autumn it is due to publish its strategy on cutting UK emissions to zero overall by 2050.
“The UK is leading the way, decarbonizing our economy faster than any country in the G20 over the last two decades,” the prime minister said.
“I hope today’s IPCC report will be a wake-up call for the world to take action now before we meet in Glasgow in November for the critical COP26 summit.”
Johnson is backed by Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith who commented that the report made for “appalling reading”. He added that the report “added to the urgency and importance of making this COP a turning point… the alarm bells couldn’t be clearer or louder.”
Whatever happens at COP26, all eyes will now be trained more firmly on the conference come November.
Of all the COP series so far, this one is undoubtedly the most important in history. Let’s hope our leaders use the opportunity to rewrite our future.