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- IPCC Report: Climate change widespread, rapid, and intensifying
Scientists are observing changes in the Earth’s climate in every region and across the whole climate system, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, released today.
Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion—such as continued sea level rise—are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years.
However, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change.
While benefits for air quality would come quickly, it could take 20-30 years to see global temperatures stabilize, according to the IPCC Working Group I report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, approved on Friday by 195 member governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session that was held over two weeks starting on July 26.
Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC:
"This report reflects extraordinary efforts under exceptional circumstances. The innovations in this report, and advances in climate science that it reflects, provide an invaluable input into climate negotiations and decision-making."
The report provides new estimates of the chances of crossing the global warming level of 1.5°C in the next decades, and finds that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.
The report shows that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming since 1850-1900, and finds that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming.
This assessment is based on improved observational datasets to assess historical warming, as well progress in scientific understanding of the response of the climate system to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
The Working Group I report is the first instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be completed in 2022.
Valérie Masson-Delmotte, IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair:
"This report is a reality check. 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."Every region facing increasing changes
Many characteristics of climate change directly depend on the level of global warming, but what people experience is often very different to the global average. For example, warming over land is larger than the global average, and it is more than twice as high in the Arctic.
Panmao Zhai, IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair:
"Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways. The changes we experience will increase with additional warming."The report projects that in the coming decades climate changes will increase in all regions. For 1.5°C of global warming, there will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons.
At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health, the report shows.
But it is not just about temperature. Climate change is bringing multiple different changes in different regions – which will all increase with further warming. These include changes to wetness and dryness, to winds, snow and ice, coastal areas and oceans. For example:
- Climate change is intensifying the water cycle. This brings more intense rainfall and associated flooding, as well as more intense drought in many regions.
- Climate change is affecting rainfall patterns. In high latitudes, precipitation is likely to increase, while it is projected to decrease over large parts of the subtropics. Changes to monsoon precipitation are expected, which will vary by region.
- Coastal areas will see continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion. Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century.
- Further warming will amplify permafrost thawing, and the loss of seasonal snow cover, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and loss of summer Arctic sea ice.
- Changes to the ocean, including warming, more frequent marine heatwaves, ocean acidification, and reduced oxygen levels have been clearly linked to human influence. These changes affect both ocean ecosystems and the people that rely on them, and they will continue throughout at least the rest of this century.
- For cities, some aspects of climate change may be amplified, including heat (since urban areas are usually warmer than their surroundings), flooding from heavy precipitation events and sea level rise in coastal cities.
For the first time, the Sixth Assessment Report provides a more detailed regional assessment of climate change, including a focus on useful information that can inform risk assessment, adaptation, and other decision-making, and a new framework that helps translate physical changes in the climate – heat, cold, rain, drought, snow, wind, coastal flooding and more – into what they mean for society and ecosystems.
This regional information can be explored in detail in the newly developed Interactive Atlas as well as regional fact sheets, the technical summary, and underlying report.
Interactive AtlasYou can access Interactive Atlas at interactive-atlas.ipcc.ch
Human influence on the past and future climate
"It has been clear for decades that the Earth’s climate is changing, and the role of human influence on the climate system is undisputed."Yet the new report also reflects major advances in the science of attribution – understanding the role of climate change in intensifying specific weather and climate events such as extreme heat waves and heavy rainfall events.
The report also shows that human actions still have the potential to determine the future course of climate. The evidence is clear that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main driver of climate change, even as other greenhouse gases and air pollutants also affect the climate.
"Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions. Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate."The Current State of the Climate
The Working Group I contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report addresses the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change, bringing together the latest advances in climate science, and combining multiple lines of evidence from paleoclimate, observations, process understanding, and global and regional climate simulations.
Since AR5, improvements in observationally based estimates and information from paleoclimate archives provide a comprehensive view of each component of the climate system and its changes to date.
New climate model simulations, new analyses, and methods combining multiple lines of evidence lead to improvedunderstanding of human influence on a wider range of climate variables, including weather and climate extremes.
The time periods considered throughout this Section depend upon the availability of observational products, paleoclimate archives and peer-reviewed studies.
It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred. Observed increases in well-mixed greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations since around 1750 are unequivocally caused by human activities.
Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850. Globally averaged precipitation over land has likely increased since 1950, with a faster rate of increase since the 1980s (medium confidence).
It is likely that human influence contributed to the pattern of observed precipitation changes since the mid-20th century, and extremely likely that human influence contributed to the pattern of observed changes in near-surface ocean salinity.
Human influence is very likely the main driver of the global retreat of glaciers since the 1990s and the decrease in Arctic sea ice area between 1979–1988 and 2010–2019 (about 40% in September and about 10% in March).
It is virtually certain that the global upper ocean (0–700 m) has warmed since the 1970s and extremely likely that human influence is the main driver.It is virtually certain that human-caused CO2 emissions are the main driver of current global acidification of the surface open ocean.
Changes in the land biosphere since 1970 are consistent with global warming: climate zones have shifted poleward in both hemispheres, and the growing season has on average lengthened by up to two days per decade since the 1950s in the Northern Hemisphere extratropics (high confidence).
Observed warming is driven by emissions from human activities, with greenhouse gas warming partly masked by aerosol cooling.
History of global temperature change and causes of recent warming
Assessed contributions to observed warming in 2010–2019 relative to 1850–1900
In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years (high confidence), and concentrations of CH4 and N2O were higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years (very high confidence).
Global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over at least the last 2000 years (high confidence).Global mean sea level has risen faster since 1900 than over any preceding century in at least the last 3000 years (high confidence).
Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.
It is virtually certain that hot extremes (including heatwaves) have become more frequent and more intense across most land regions since the 1950s, while cold extremes (including cold waves) have become less frequent and less severe, with high confidence that human-induced climate change is the main driver 14 of these changes.
A set of five new illustrative emissions scenarios is considered consistently across the report to explore the climate response to a broader range of greenhouse gas (GHG), land use and air pollutant futures than assessed in AR5. You can read about these scenarios in the full report.
Climate Information for Risk Assessment and Regional Adaptation
Physical climate information addresses how the climate system responds to the interplay between human influence, natural drivers and internal variability. Knowledge of the climate response and the range of possible outcomes, including low-likelihood, high impact outcomes, informs climate services – the assessment of climate-related risks and adaptation planning.
Physical climate information at global, regional and local scales is developed from multiple lines ofevidence, including observational products, climate model outputs and tailored diagnostics. Natural drivers and internal variability will modulate human-caused changes, especially at regional scales and in the near term, with little effect on centennial global warming.
With further global warming, every region is projected to increasingly experience concurrent and multiple changes in climatic impact-drivers. Changes in several climatic impact-drivers would be more widespread at 2°C compared to 1.5°C global warming and even more widespread and/or pronounced for higher warming levels.
Low-likelihood outcomes, such as ice sheet collapse, abrupt ocean circulation changes, some compound extreme events and warming substantially larger than the assessed very likely range of future warming cannot be ruled out and are part of risk assessment.
Limiting Future Climate Change
Since AR5, estimates of remaining carbon budgets have been improved by a new methodology first presented in SR1.5, updated evidence, and the integration of results from multiple lines of evidence. A comprehensive range of possible future air pollution controls in scenarios is used to consistently assess the effects of various assumptions on projections of climate and air pollution.
A novel development is the ability to ascertain when climate responses to emissions reductions would become discernible above natural climate variability, including internal variability and responses to natural drivers.
From a physical science perspective, limiting human-induced global warming to a specific level requires limiting cumulative CO2 emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2 emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions. Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4 emissions would also limit the warming effect resulting from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality.
This Report reaffirms with high confidence the AR5 finding that there is a near-linear relationship between cumulative anthropogenic CO2 emissions and the global warming they cause.
Near-linear relationship between cumulative CO2 emissions and the increase in global surface temperature