Irreversible Climate Change

Are we reaching the point of no return ?

Major climate changes will soon be irreversible

Climate scientists have warned that human activity is changing the Earth’s climate in ways that will soon become “irreversible”. Temperatures are likely to rise by more than 1.5C bringing widespread devastation and extreme weather.

Only rapid and drastic reductions in greenhouse gases in this decade can prevent such climate breakdown, with every fraction of a degree of further heating likely to compound the accelerating effects, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on climate science.

The sixth comprehensive assessment of climate change has marshalled the work of hundreds of experts and peer-review studies. It represents the world’s full knowledge to date of the physical basis of climate change.

“This a code red for humanity,” warned António Guterres, the UN secretary General, “billions of people are at an at immediate risk.”

Temperatures have now risen by about 1.1C since the period 1850 to 1900, but stabilising the climate at 1.5C was still possible, the IPCC said. It would still result in heatwaves and storms, but would represent a much smaller risk than 2C.

Unless we finally start to act on these warnings, things will get much, much worse. The world on the brink of irreversible harm. These include sea level rises, the melting of Arctic ice, and the warming and acidification of the oceans. Only strong action now by people on emissions can stave off the worse dangers of climate change, according to IPCC scientists.

The latest warning from over 14,000 scientists is that we are nearing or have already crossed irreversible tipping points associated with critical parts of the Earth system. These are thresholds where a tiny change could push a system into a completely new state including the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, warm-water coral reefs, and the Amazon rainforest.

Given these alarming developments, we need short, frequent, and easily accessible updates on the climate emergency.

In 2019, 11,258 scientists published a report in the journal BioScience, warning the world of the stark climate emergency we’re facing. Almost two years later, things have not magically turned around. Especially troubling is the increase in climate-related disasters, including the 2019-20 Australian megafires, and the fact that three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – set records for atmospheric concentrations in 2020 and again in 2021,” said University of Sydney ecologist Thomas Newsome.

A new report, also published in BioScience, has added 2,800 scientists’ names to the growing collective, noted that 1,990 jurisdictions have formally declared or recognized a climate emergency, and provided a policy approach to be able to mitigate some of the damage we’re doing to our warming planet.

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The researchers suggest a “three-pronged near-term policy approach”: a significantly higher global price on carbon, a worldwide phase-out and eventual ban of fossil fuels, and development of climate reserves to protect and restore biodiversity and carbon sinks (such as the Amazon rainforest).

Of course, climate scientists have been screaming from the rooftops about the dangers of anthropogenic climate change since at least the 1960s, and have been offering various solutions in different ways since the 1980s.

Despite knowing what rampant use of fossil fuels is doing to Earth’s climate, humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions have kept going up, and global warming has increased as a result. Now, scientists warn we have no more time left to waste.

“We suggest an urgent need for transformative change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, more broadly, human overexploitation of the planet,” says Newsome.

“Opportunities still exist to shift pandemic related monetary support measures into climate friendly activities; it is encouraging to see fossil-fuel divestment and fossil-fuel subsidies improving in record setting ways.”                                                                                 

However, despite many of the 31 ‘vital signs’ or benchmarks – like ocean changes, the number of livestock and melting ice – being at horrible all-time highs, there are a few glimmers of hope, too.

Between 2018 and 2021, solar and wind power has increased by 57 percent (although that’s still 19 times lower than fossil fuel consumption). Also, between 2018 and 2021 there’s been a strong increase in the divestment of fossil fuels. And since 2019, there’s also been a small decrease in fossil fuel energy consumption – although the researchers note that’s probably because of the pandemic, and is likely to go back up again.

The new report was released to align with the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report due next week, which is hopefully going to be even more of a wake-up call. IPCC reports from past years have not messed around.

Scientists are left hoping that enough political will exists out there to make the necessary policy changes needed – to quite literally save the world.

The report has been published in BioScience.

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