Humanity Is at 'Code Red,' Warns New Climate Change Report from United Nations: 'Reality Check'
As the world continues to reel from ongoing heat waves, flooding and wildfires, a new report from the United Nations said climate change has been "unequivocally" caused by human activity — and warned that some damage already done is "irreversible."
The UN on Monday released its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the most comprehensive report from the group since 2013.
The summary included a series of stark statistics that laid out just how climate change has affected the planet over the last few centuries, including the fact that global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over at least the last 2,000 years.
And since 2011, greenhouse gas concentrations have continued to rise, and each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850, according to the report.
Such a rise in temperature has caused a multitude of effects, including heat waves, heavy precipitation, droughts and tropical cyclones.
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"This report is a reality check," report co-chair Valerie Masson-Delmotte said in a statement, according to NBC News. "We now have a much clearer picture of the past, present and future climate, which is essential for understanding where we are headed, what can be done, and how we can prepare."
In the 2015 Paris climate agreement, world leaders agreed to try to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above levels in the late 19th century.
But the report warned that global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius will be exceeded this century "unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades."
Even if things do improve, many changes, including those in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level, are "irreversible for centuries to millennia," the report said.
"It can be kind of demoralizing or depressing to think that there are so many things that are kind of irreversible for a long period of time," Ko Barrett, the IPCC's vice-chair, told NBC News. "But the good news is that, that these irreversible changes can be slowed down with rapid, strong and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions."
The report laid out five different scenarios for the future, each one based on how much carbon emissions are cut. Under every single scenario, global surface temperatures will still continue to increase until at least the mid-century — and in the worst-case scenario, the end of the century could find the world 3.3 degrees Celsius hotter than it is now.
In three of the five scenarios, the world will likely exceed 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times "with far worse heat waves, droughts and flood-inducing downpours unless there are deep emissions cuts," according to the Associated Press.
Despite that, report co-author and climate scientist Zeke Hausfather told the AP that hitting 3.3 degrees is unlikely.
"We are a lot less likely to get lucky and end up with less warming than we thought," Hausfather said. "At the same time, the odds of ending up in a much worse place than we expected if we do reduce our emissions are notably lower."
While UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the findings a "code red for humanity," he said he still has hope that world leaders can prevent 1.5 degrees of warming.
The IPCC was established in the late 1980s, and is made of thousands of scientists from nearly 200 governments who research global warming and compile their findings into a report, according to NBC News.
The 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference will take place from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 in Glasgow, Scotland.