In what is by far considered the most comprehensive catalog ever assembled on how climate change is disrupting the world, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced a 4,000-page document that was seen by the AFP news agency on Wednesday.
Extinction of species, more widespread disease, unbearable heat, collapsing ecosystems, cities threatened by rising seas – these and other devastating climate effects are accelerating and will become painfully evident before a child born today is 30 years old. years, according to the draft report.
“The worst is yet to come, affecting the lives of our children and grandchildren far more than ours,” says the draft report.
But the document, designed to influence critical policy decisions, is not expected to be released until February 2022 – too late for this year’s UN summits on climate, biodiversity and food systems, some scientists say.
The report warns that previous major climate shocks have dramatically altered the environment and wiped out most species, raising the question of whether humanity is sowing the seeds of its own demise.
“Life on Earth can recover from drastic climate change by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems,” he says. “Humans can’t. “
The IPCC released a statement Wednesday saying it “does not comment on the content of the draft reports while work is still in progress.”
Respected climatologist François Gemenne, who heads the Hugo Observatory and is author of the IPPC report, stressed that the project seen by AFP will undergo revisions before being finalized and may even include additional sections.
“This is not the version that will be adopted in February 2022,” he said on Twitter.
He added that it would be a “big mistake” to imagine that any focus on “key messages” was helpful.
“Disclosure of the results before the outcome of this process undermines the credibility of the work of the IPCC as a whole,” Gemenne said.
There are at least four main takeaways from the draft report, which could be subject to minor changes in the coming months, as the IPCC focuses on a key executive summary for policymakers.
The first is that with 1.1 degrees Celsius of warming recorded so far, the climate is already changing. Ten years ago, scientists believed that limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius above mid-19th century levels would be enough to protect our future.
This goal is enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, adopted by nearly 200 countries that have collectively pledged to limit warming to “well below” two degrees Celsius – and to 1.5 degrees if possible. Current trends suggest an increase of at least three degrees Celsius.
Earlier models predicted that climate change would not be visible until 2100. But the UN draft report says that prolonged warming, even above 1.5 degrees Celsius, could produce “progressively severe consequences, secular and, in some cases, irreversible ”.
Last month, the World Meteorological Organization predicted a 40% chance that the Earth will cross the 1.5-degree threshold for at least a year by 2026.
For some plants and animals, it might be too late: “Even at 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, conditions will change beyond the ability of many organisms to adapt,” the report notes. Coral reefs – ecosystems on which half a billion people depend – are one example.
Indigenous peoples of the Arctic face cultural extinction as the environment upon which their livelihoods and history depend continues to melt.
A warming world has also increased the length of fire seasons, doubled potential burnable areas, and contributed to losses to food systems.
Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center, told Al Jazeera that the effect of global warming will be felt at the individual level as well as globally.
“Hot and humid places are where we’re going to see the most impact on human life, because when you combine humidity and high temperature, it means your body can’t get rid of the heat it generates in the room. part of its normal functioning, ”says François. “And if that combination gets too high, that’s when we see people succumbing to heat waves,” she added.
Francis said that while North America, Europe and the Middle East are already experiencing dangerous heat waves, they could also spread north, noting that Siberia recorded a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) last summer for the first time.
What can we do?
The second crucial takeaway from the draft report is that the world must face the reality of climate change and prepare for the onslaught.
“Current levels of adaptation will be insufficient to respond to future climate risks,” he warns.
Mid-century projections – even in an optimistic two-degree-Celsius warming scenario – put it mildly.
Tens of millions more are likely to face chronic hunger by 2050, and 130 million more could experience extreme poverty within a decade if inequalities are allowed to worsen.
By 2050, coastal cities on the “frontlines” of the climate crisis will see hundreds of millions of people threatened by increasingly frequent flooding and storm surges made more deadly by rising seas.
Some 350 million more people living in urban areas will be at risk of water scarcity due to severe droughts at 1.5 degrees Celsius warming – 410 million at two degrees Celsius.
That extra half a degree will also mean another 420 million people exposed to extreme and potentially fatal heat waves.
“Adaptation costs for Africa are expected to increase by tens of billions of dollars per year with warming above two degrees,” the report warns.
There is very little good news in the report, but the IPCC stresses that a lot can be done to avoid worst-case scenarios and prepare for effects that can no longer be avoided, the final takeaway.
Conservation and restoration of so-called blue carbon ecosystems – kelp and mangrove forests, for example – enhance carbon stocks and protect against storm surges, while providing habitat for wildlife, coastal livelihoods and food security
The shift to more plant-based diets could also reduce food-related emissions by up to 70 percent by 2050.
But simply swapping out a gas guzzler for a Tesla or planting billions of trees to make up for the status quo won’t be enough, the report warns.
“We need transformational change that affects processes and behaviors at all levels: individual, communities, businesses, institutions and governments,” he says.
“We need to redefine our way of life and consumption.
Commenting on the report, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who led the “Fridays for Future” movement and the youth climate strikes that swept the world, said the “revealing” report was preferable to false assurances.
But she added that she was hopeful that “a lot of people are getting more and more ready to say it the way it is.
“Of course we can’t face this crisis unless… we are old enough to speak the truth and face the reality,” said the 18-year-old.