António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations. Image: UN / Jean-Marc Ferré

A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that the world is running out of time to act on the climate crisis and secure a liveable future. 

Climate disruption is accelerating rapidly, and many of the impacts will be more severe than previously predicted.

The report released overnight finds that we are already experiencing “widespread disruption” due to human-caused climate change, which is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest and pushing humans and nature beyond our abilities to adapt. 

It says it is “unavoidable” that the impacts of climate change will continue even if global warming is curtailed to a 1.5C target, but that if we reach 2C it will be “impossible” for some regions to adapt and any overshoot may be impossible to get back.

“The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home”

–  UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres

“I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this. Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said. 

“The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.”

The report found that more than 40 per cent of the world’s population is already “highly vulnerable” to climate impacts.

The main findings are: 

  • even if we meet the 1.5C Paris Agreement target, there will still be serious and irreversible consequences around the world 
  • governments can do more to act, but if warming rises 1.5C there will be limits to our ability to adapt 
  • disadvantaged and impoverished populations are already the hardest hit by the effects of climate change, and this is likely to continue 
  • a billion more people will be at risk from coastal specific climate hazards in the next few decades 
  • if high emissions continue, natural disasters will cause 250,000 unnecessary deaths a year 
  • if temperatures rise to between 1.7 and 1.8C above the 1850s level, half the human population could be exposed to life-threatening climatic risk
  • if warming reaches 4C, half of all plants and animals assessed will be threatened with extinction

Australia is in the direct line of impact. The likelihood is that:

  • southern and eastern Australia will experience more droughts and extreme fire events
  • eastern capitals of Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne may see 600 heat-waves caused deaths a year between 2031 and 2080 
  • the number of days with temperatures over 35C may increase up to 350 per cent by 2090

Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of Working Group II of the IPCC said the scientific evidence was unequivocal, “climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet”

“Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

It’s a dire prediction of our everyday life. The places where we live and work may cease to exist, and “ecosystems and species that we’ve all grown up with and that are central to our cultures and inform our languages may disappear,” co-chair professor Debra Roberts said.

“So this is really a key moment. Our report points out very clearly, this is the decade of action, if we are going to turn things around.”

Climate change impacts are hitting the world’s most vulnerable populations the hardest. Image: UNICEF / Noorani

Climate change is causing more heat waves, dangerous fire weather, droughts, rising sea levels, drier winter and spring months, and flooding (such as what we are seeing now across northern NSW and south QLD) to southern and eastern Australia. These environmental stressors increase the pressure on the natural environment, infrastructure and economic sectors including agriculture, finance and tourism.

The IPCC is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations, created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its risks,  and adaptation and mitigation options. 

The Working Group II Sixth Assessment Report is the second in a series of three about the consequences of climate change. The first report released in August highlighted the scale of human effect on the climate system. 

Authored by 270 experts from 67 countries, the latest reportit summarises more than 34,000 pieces of research and was informed by comments from over 62,000 expert reviewers and governments. 

We know that climate change is a risk -multiplierayer. 

More than 85 per cent of Australians live within 50 kilometres of the coast. In low-lying areas, homes, infrastructure and ecosystems will be lost to rising sea levels. Australians, and our beloved iconic wildlife, are at risk from heatwaves and more adverse effects of climate change. Climate change compounds supply chain issues, and further puts economically and socially vulnerable communities at risk. 

“One of the things that I think is really, really clear in the report is that yes, things are bad, but actually, the future depends on us, not the climate” 

– Dr Helen Adams

The agricultural sector will be hit hard by intensified heat and drought that will place more stress on our rural communities, particularly in Australia’s south-west, south and east. 

In disadvantaged and impoverished parts of the world, people are put at more at risk by climate change. Fifteen15 times more people died from floods, droughts and storms in vulnerable regions in Africa, South Asia and Central and South America, than in other parts of the world between 2010 and 2020. 

“One of the things that I think is really, really clear in the report is that yes, things are bad, but actually, the future depends on us, not the climate,” said Dr Helen Adams, a lead author on the report from King’s College, London.

No time to delay

Climate change is being exacerbated by the slow speed of our governments and institutions of uptake in climate change adaptation. 

The report says that there is still a brief window of time to avoid the worst.

If we delay, the damage will be more expensive and require far greater change. 

Adaptation, mitigation and reduction of emissions is required, yesterday – in order to keep warming below 1.5C. 

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