Headlines related to recent extreme weather appear to come out of a science fiction book: Even the richest countries in the world can’t control widespread fires — they’re even burning in the Arctic. Deadly flooding in Germany and Belgium in July 2021 completely washed away buildings and cars, and more than 1,000 people remain missing. Hundreds died in flooding in China. The U.S. Pacific Northwest, known for its cool climate, hit over 100 degrees F for several days. And the Arctic lost an area of sea ice equivalent to the size of Florida between June and mid-July 2021.
These changes are happening with average warming of just 1.1 degrees C (1.98 degrees F) over pre-industrial levels. The newest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), world’s most authoritative body on climate science, finds that this is just a taste of what’s to come.
The IPCC Working Group I sixth assessment report shows that the world will probably reach or exceed 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) of warming within just the next two decades. Whether we limit warming to this level and prevent the most severe climate impacts depends on actions taken this decade.
Only with ambitious emissions cuts can the world keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C, the limit scientists say is necessary for preventing the worst climate impacts. Under a high-emissions scenario, the IPCC finds the world may warm by up to 5.7 degrees C (10.3 degrees F) by 2100 — with catastrophic results.
Of course, every fraction of a degree of warming comes with more dangerous and costly consequences. In just a decade’s time, we’ll be looking back on today’s apocalyptic headlines thinking how stable things were back in 2021.
The report offers policymakers a clear-eyed view of the current state of global climate change and lays out the transformational action governments must take to avoid a calamitous future. More