What does climate change mean for human lives, aspirations and jobs, options for migrating to find greater economic opportunity or retiring in peace along a breezy coast?
The next update in a series of key reports from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will offer a sobering warning about increasingly challenging, even uninhabitable, parts of the planet should global warming go unchecked. And the report is meant emphasize real-world scenarios, including with more input from those on the ground in already impacted regions.
The series of reports — which can help set everything from global emissions targets to disaster insurance reviews to the next trend in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing
— brings together hundreds of the world’s leading scientists and are issued every five to seven years. The latest report references over 34,000 scientific papers.
This installment, the second of three, follows last year’s “code red” warning from the IPCC. Participating scientists confirmed in that August release that human-led warming
is already accelerating sea level rise, melting crucial ice caps and creating more (and more frequent) droughts, floods and storms. Sure, extreme and deadly heat waves, for example, remain rare. But that rarity has narrowed from roughly once every 50 years to once every decade or so.
The latest update, which is being deliberated beginning Monday but won’t be finished until the end of February, integrates more strongly natural, social and economic sciences, highlighting the role of social justice and diverse forms of knowledge such as indigenous and local feedback, the IPCC said.
“‘We are losing living spaces for species and for ourselves as well. Because with climate change, some parts of the planet would become uninhabitable.’”
— Hans-Otto Poertner
This update also reflects the increasing importance of urgent and immediate action to address climate risks. The report adds in linkages between biodiversity and climate change, the group said. Questions around lost biodiversity and its connection to the spread of COVID-19 from animal to human also color the latest thinking.
Scientists and the U.N. won’t yet say what’s in the report currently under review because it’s subject to negotiation between the authors and governments over the next two weeks. A final version must include a consensus summary.
Report co-chair Hans-Otto Poertner said at a recent press briefing that there are temperature limits to what key ecosystems, animal and plant species and, in particular, humans can withstand. In some places, warming is near those limits and in a few cases, such as much of the world’s coral reefs, the limits have been passed.
“We are losing living spaces for species and for ourselves as well,” Poertner said. “Because with climate change, some parts of the planet would become uninhabitable.”
The IPCC last August set five scenarios for the future, based on how much carbon emissions are cut. But each version, given current policy and practices, surpasses the more stringent of two temperature thresholds set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. World leaders agreed then to try to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 19th century, and no more than 2 degrees Celsius. The limit is only a few tenths of a degree hotter than current temperatures at the time of the report because the world has already warmed nearly 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) in the past century and a half.
“The IPCC’s horrifying evidence of escalating climate impacts is set to show a nightmare painted in the dry language of science,” Teresa Anderson, who heads climate justice issues at ActionAid International, said in a statement about her expectations for the upcoming report, the Associated Press said.
A third IPCC report due out in March will address what can be done to curb and adapt to global warming.