Global warming is on track to reshape life on Earth, but until climate change is significantly slowed, people all over the world and other lifeforms will be unable to cope with the new normal, as shown in a major report released Monday.
The UN-backed report, based on years of study by hundreds of scientists, discovered that the repercussions of human-caused climate change are higher than anticipated, are occurring much rapidly, and are more detrimental than scientists predicted 20 years ago.
The authors highlight massive injustices in the changing climate. The report was dubbed "an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership" by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who cautioned that "delay means death."
The following are the key findings of the report:
Warming past 1.5 degrees could have lasting effects
Scientists have warned that warming must be limited to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels for years.
According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released on Monday, if that threshold is exceeded, certain consequences will be irreparable for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Several effects may be permanent, even if the planet cools again.
According to the IPCC, the world has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius. We are now rapidly approaching 1.5 degrees.
Emissions of greenhouse gases will cause global warming to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Ecosystems are propelled closer to so-called tipping points in each environmental disaster. At 2 degrees of warming, up to 18% of all land inhabitants face extinction. At 4 degrees, half of all species are jeopardized.
"There are many challenges already with 1.5 degrees for several systems that we know about," said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a co-chair on the report.
Melting ice sheets and glaciers will increase sea levels. Forests, peatlands, and permafrost, which naturally store greenhouse gases, risk being pushed into a situation in which they release those gases into the air, exacerbating warming.
Limited adaptability options
"Adaptation" is the process of figuring out how to cope with change. Scientists mention that although our adaptations have mitigated the effects of the climate crisis thus far, they are insufficient in the long run. At 1.5 degrees, our approaches for adaptation will become more limited.
Over millennia, the earth has adapted to changing climates, but the rate of human-caused climatic change is threatening several of the planet's most critical components. People are also being drawn into danger as a result of population growth and development.
'Chronic water scarcity' will affect up to 3 billion people
According to the report, roughly half of the world's population faces water shortages each year, owing in part to climate-related factors. As global temperatures rise, water becomes even more scarce.
According to the report, at 2 degrees of warming, up to three billion people worldwide will face "chronic water scarcity." At 4 degrees, it rises to four billion people.
"What we really wanted to show is that ecosystems and all sectors of human society and human well-being fundamentally depends on water," Tabea Lissner, a scientist at Climate Analytics and an author on the report, told CNN.
Those who bear the least responsibility suffer the most
According to the report, the regions that emit the fewest greenhouse gases, primarily those in the Global South and island territories, are massively affected by climate change.
Camille Parmesan, an ecologist at the CNRS Ecology Station and one of the report's authors, believes that as climate change escalates, more Indigenous people will lose access to the land, water, and biodiversity on which they rely.
More people would be forced to resettle as the climate crisis worsens, causing stress and risks toward other territories.
Worst-case scenario can still be avoided
Although certain developing countries are unable to cope owing to lack of funds and capabilities, the IPCC identifies North America as a county where ignorance and politicization are a constraint. This has resulted in a misconceptions of the magnitude of the threat and has divided the solution to the crisis, ultimately "delaying urgent adaptation planning and implementation," according to the report's authors. In Europe, they point to an inadequacy of political leadership and a lack of urgency as obstacles to resolve.
However, these are surmountable obstacles, and the authors claim that there is still time to take significant steps — albeit a short one.