The effects of the climate crisis have become more widespread and severe much sooner than expected, and human activities are “unequivocally” to blame, according to the latest report from the IPCC. The assessment represents the most comprehensive study to date from the UN climate panel.
The research suggests that recent warming is not only unprecedented over the past two thousand years – but possibly over the past hundred thousand years.
The researchers say that weather extremes which were once considered rare, or even unprecedented, have become common. Furthermore, we are now permanently locked into major impacts of the climate crisis, regardless of whether future global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The heat wave that killed hundreds of people and more than a billion animals this summer in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest would have been “virtually impossible” without the impacts of human-caused climate change, according to a recent study from the World Weather Attribution. The scientists said that the climate crisis has increased the likelihood of an extreme heat wave in this particular region by more than 150 times.
The IPCC report points out that severe heat waves which used to happen only once every 50 years are now happening about once a decade, as a direct result of global warming.
The research is based on more than 14,000 scientific studies. The analysis has produced a despairing picture of the future that humans are creating for our planet.
Severe droughts are happening 1.7 times as often, fire seasons are getting longer and more intense, and tropical storms are getting stronger. Furthermore, rainfall and snowfall extremes are becoming less predictable.
“There is no uncertainty language in this sentence, because there is no uncertainty that global warming is caused by human activity and the burning of fossil fuels,” said co-author Friederike Otto, a climatologist at the University of Oxford.
On the bright side, we still have an opportunity to prevent many of the worst impacts of climate change. For example, by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we could keep global warming below 1.5°C. This would limit sea level rise to just a couple feet over the next century.
On the other hand, the IPCC report shows that exceeding the 1.5°C global warming target could ultimately lead to 20 feet or more of global sea level rise.
The researchers say that unless immediate, rapid and large-scale action is taken to reduce emissions, the average global temperature is likely to reach or cross the 1.5-degree Celsius warming threshold within 20 years.
“We are now committed to some aspects of climate change, some of which are irreversible for hundreds to thousands of years,” said IPCC co-author Tamsin Edwards of King’s College London. “But the more we limit warming, the more we can avoid or slow down those changes.”
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer