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IPCC’s report on climate change: ‘the frightening future that awaits us’

Landmark study says global temperatures likely to rise by 1.5C over next 20 years

Changes to the climate are being felt in every region of the planet, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned.

A newly published study by the UN body, which assesses the science related to climate change, found that many of these changes “are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years” - and that some are “irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years”.

The 234 scientists behind the research calculate that global temperatures are likely to rise by 1.5C over the next 20 years, in breach of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. A total of 195 nations agreed to a goal to “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C”, and to pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels”, says the IPCC.

Scientists usually measure rising global temperatures against the baseline of the years between about 1850 and 1900 (defined as the “pre-industrial period”), “when fossil-fuel burning had yet to change the climate”, the BBC reports. 

Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1C of warming since this period, according to the newly published study, which “has been eight years in the making”, says The Guardian. The IPCC found that human activity is “unequivocally” the cause of rapid changes to the climate including sea level rises, melting polar ice and glaciers, heatwaves, floods and droughts.

The damning report is not without any element of hope, however. The experts say that “strong and sustained reductions” in emissions of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide would be able to limit climate change.

But “while benefits for air quality would come quickly, it could take 20 to 30 years to see global temperatures stabilise”, the UN body adds.

The IPCC working group’s co-chair, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, has described the findings as a “reality check”, while UN secretary general Antonio Guterres called the report a “code red for humanity”.

As environmental groups urge governments to act without delay, the WWF’s chief adviser on climate change, Dr Stephen Cornelius, added that the report is “a stark assessment of the frightening future that awaits us if we fail to act”.

Boris Johnson has described the report as “sobering” reading. 

“We know what must be done to limit global warming - consign coal to history and shift to clean energy sources, protect nature and provide climate finance for countries on the front line,” said a statement from the prime minister, who was criticised last week for joking that Margaret Thatcher's mass closure of the coal mines in the 1980s was good for climate change.

The release of the new study findings comes less than three months before the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as Cop26, in Glasgow. Much of the conference will centre on delivering goals set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement, as well as moving the UN climate change process forward.

The summary of the IPCC report “will form a basis for negotiations at the global summit in November”, the Financial Times reports. 

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