In Depth

Climate change report: what are the risks and what can we do?

Leading scientists say urgent changes needed to cut risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty

The world has just 12 years to get global warming in check before we reach a massive tipping point that threatens extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people, climate scientists are warning.

The dire prediction is made in a landmark new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body set up to provide expert scientific advice to governments on the causes, impacts and solutions to rising temperatures.

Responding to the findings, Greenpeace’s Kaisa Kosonen said: “Scientists might want to write in capital letters, ‘ACT NOW IDIOTS’, but they need to say that with facts and numbers. And they have.” 

What does the report say?

The conclusions reached by the IPCC are likely to make this “the most critical and controversial report on climate change in recent years”, reports the BBC. A team of leading climate scientists say that carbon pollution needs to be cut by 45% by 2030, and to come down to zero by 2050, in order to keep temperature rises below 1.5C.

At the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, 195 nations agreed to try and limit warming to below 2C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

But the latest report says that if rises can be kept below 1.5C, the proportion of the global population exposed to water stress “could be 50% lower than at 2C”, reports The Guardian.

“Food scarcity would be less of a problem and hundreds of millions fewer people, particularly in poor countries, would be at risk of climate-related poverty,” the newspaper continues. “Insects, which are vital for pollination of crops, and plants are almost twice as likely to lose half their habitat at 2C compared with 1.5C. Corals would be 99% lost at the higher of the two temperatures.”

The report also “makes it clear that climate change is already happening - and what comes next could be even worse, unless urgent international political action is taken”, says CNN.

Panmao Zhai, co-chair of the IPCC working group tasked with studying climate change, said: “One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes.” 

What can we do?

The IPCC maps out four pathways to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C. According to the scientists, reforestation is key, along with a shift over to electric transport systems and greater adoption of carbon capture technology.

There also needs to be widespread changes relating to energy, industry, building, transportation and cities, the report says.

These changes would probably involve “an intensification of cuts to CO2 emissions, a rapid move to renewable energy and quite possibly, the deployment of technologies to suck greenhouse gases from the air”, although “this last option is seen as highly controversial”, says the BBC.

Jim Skea, co-chair of an IPCC group working on the mitigation of climate change, said: “We have presented governments with pretty hard choices. We have pointed out the enormous benefits of keeping to 1.5C, and also the unprecedented shift in energy systems and transport that would be needed to achieve that.

“We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can - and that is the governments that receive it.”

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