The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its latest report looking at the future impacts of climate change, and once again, things look dire. (Note: if you’ve ever read any IPCC report, things always look dire.) But this time around, the IPCC is making some stark, mildly apocalyptic predictions. The chances of the world’s governments taking these predictions seriously enough to take actions that change the course of the future are unlikely, if history is any guide.
The IPCC’s Synthesis Report, created with the input of thousands of scientists, is an overview of the state of climate science today. Here are some of the more nightmarish passages from the lengthy report.
You know all those wacky weather events that have been popping up in recent years? Any individual event can be shrugged off as chance, but it’s likely that some of them are linked to climate change:
It is very likely that the number of cold days and nights has decreased and the number of warm days and nights has increased on the global scale. It is likely that the frequency of heat waves has increased in large parts of Europe, Asia and Australia. It is very likely that human influence has contributed to the observed global scale changes in the frequency and intensity of daily temperature extremes since the mid-20th century. It is likely that human influence has more than doubled the probability of occurrence of heat waves in some locations. There is medium confidence that the observed warming has increased heat-related human mortality and decreased cold-related human mortality in some regions.
Climate change-related deaths may already be happening, in other words.
The report also notes that evidence of climate change can be seen in changes among “terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species,” many of which have altered their activities, migration patterns, and interactions in response to climate change.
Even in a scenario where we all drop everything and start thinking about moonshot solutions to climate change, some damage to humanity is inevitable. From the report:
Surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. The ocean will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise.
In every future emissions scenario laid out by the IPCC, Arctic sea ice will continue to decline year-round, speeding up sea level rise. The report warns that it’s very likely that the sea level will rise in over 95% of Earth’s ocean area by the end of the century.
Even if humans manage to halt climate change completely, its effects–like ocean acidification and sea level rise–will continue on into the next century and beyond. For humans, the effects of all this will be unpleasant at best. But they will be unevenly distributed, affecting poor communities the most.
The report explains that “climate change is projected to undermine food security,” warning that “global temperature increases of ~4°C or more above late-20th century levels, combined with increasing food demand, would pose large risks to food security globally.” At the same time, climate change is expected to contribute to poor human health, especially for people who live in places that lack the infrastructure to deal with the wacky weather resulting from climate change. In some places, the combination of high temperatures and humidity will make it impossible to work outside for parts of the year. Violent conflict is also expected to increase–the result of increased poverty and negative economic changes caused by the shifting climate.
The one-two punch of climate change adaptation and mitigation could make the future a little easier to bear. But it won’t be easy, or fun:
Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally (high confidence). Mitigation involves some level of co-benefits and of risks due to adverse side-effects, but these risks do not involve the same possibility of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts as risks from climate change, increasing the benefits from near-term mitigation efforts.
In order to prevent the worst effects of climate change, we’ll need to invest hundreds of billions of dollar more each year in energy efficiency and low-emissions energy sources before 2030. If the world waits until 2030, the costs of cutting CO2 will rise dramatically. The longer we wait to implement climate change mitigation policies, the less effective adaptation measures will be, as it’s harder to adapt to rapidly worsening circumstances.
Check out the full report here.