The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly of the IPCC Climate Change Report
ipcc climate report 2021
The IPCC came out with their 6th report on climate change, one of the most dire reports we’ve seen so far. In this episode, we’re going to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly from the IPCC report and why you shouldn’t avoid the bad news. We discuss the state of our current climate, possible scenarios for our future, and why you should continue to stay informed and hopeful.
What is the Ipcc
First of all, let’s talk about what the IPCC is and why they produce this report. The IPCC is the abbreviation for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United National Environment Programme to provide rigorous scientific research to policymakers to educate and advise on the current impacts of climate change, future risks, and potential pathways for solutions.
These reports come out every 5 to 7 years. The new report, the 6th assessment report, expands on the 5th report completed in 2014. This report, written by 234 scientists from 65 countries, includes an analysis of 14,000 scientific publications, and in case you were wondering, it is extensively reviewed before publishing. So the point is that these reports are based on science, and it isn’t just one person’s view or one boardroom’s view of what is happening – so we need to listen up.
This 6th assessment report tells a story that we really don’t want to hear or face. To be 100 percent honest, reading it is tedious since it is filled with many facts and numbers, and it is definitely disheartening, to say the least. So because of that, many people aren’t going to read it or understand it fully. I’m not an expert, and even when I read through it, I had to read and re-read it just to try to wrap my head around it. But that’s why I am here – to try to read about these complex topics and break them down into something we can all understand in an easily consumable way.
Sometimes I feel like I’m watching and relaying a scary movie, like the movie of our earth experiencing climate change, and I’m not sure if it’s going to end with me feeling scared or with some sense of resolve. But I know that I’ve got awesome listeners who are learning and growing with me, so I tend to optimistically lean more towards resolve.
Current state of the climate
The IPCC report starts by telling us about the current state of the climate. And boy is it a doozie. They state – “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.”
the facts – bad and the ugly
Yikes. And, this rapid, unprecedented change has all happened in the last 2000 years. Say you’re looking at a chart of the world’s temperature since inception. You’d see there is a constant ebb and flow of temperature fluctuations within a few degrees… Well, between 1850 and 2020, there is a massive spike in global temperature. Human activity can be linked to rising global temperature due to Greenhouse gas emissions, with a slight bit of that masked due to aerosol cooling. Human activity can also be strongly linked to sea level and precipitation rises, decreased glaciers, ocean warming, and changes in our ecosystem – which our lives depend on.
They note that “in 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years, and concentrations of Methane and Nitrous Oxide were higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years.” Our surface temperature has increased more in the last 50 years than any other 50 year period during the previous 2000 years. “Hot extremes observed over the past decade would have been extremely unlikely to occur without human influence on the climate system.” And our global mean sea level has risen faster since 1900 than over any preceding century in at least the last 3000 years.
That is just a snapshot of some of the statistics. The report outlines many unprecedented changes. I know we are all sick of the word unprecedented, but it is chock full in this report. And some people might say they’ve heard scientists say this for years – and you’re likely right because it is true that our climate just keeps getting exceptionally worse as we’ve never seen it before in our lifetime. It is unprecedented.
The big takeaway in this part of the report is that human activity has gotten us to our climate’s current devastating state.
And another big takeaway about the current state of the environment is that this human-induced climate change has already affected every region globally with extreme weather changes such as heatwaves, droughts, heavier precipitation, and tropical cyclones.
So pretty much everything we’ve been talking about could happen, or that is happening to our climate is confirmed and written in this report. We’ve reached the climax of the scary movie, and now is where our brains start to say, “okay, what can possibly happen next?”
Possible climate futures
The IPCC report moves on to outline what our possible futures look like.
One future is certain – “Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”
overshooting climate goals
So if you remember, the Paris Agreement goal was to prevent a 2-degree increase in this century compared to pre-industrial levels while pursuing only a 1.5 degrees increase mark. The estimates provided in 5 different scenarios show we are unlikely to reach that goal. The best estimates for temperature increase are around 1.5 degrees until 2040, with those numbers rising past the 1.5-degree mark until 2100 except for one scenario. So we aren’t on track, and we need to make a significant shift in our emissions right now.
It is incredibly likely that any future emissions will only cause additional future warming to our planet.
You might not think that such a slight shift in temperature would cause such a big difference, but it does. With each slight increase, the severe weather events and climate changes we are seeing will increase in frequency and intensity. The report notes that it is “virtually certain” that the land surface will continue to warm more than the ocean surface.
The Arctic will continue to heat more than the global surface temperature at about two times the rate of global warming. It is amplifying permafrost thawing, loss of snow, land ice, and sea ice. In all five scenarios, the artic is likely to be sea ice-free at least once before 2050.
As discussed in Episode 23 Climate Change 101, Arctic warming puts us into a vicious cycle because our arctic sea ice reflects a lot of the sun’s rays into space. Without it, we will warm at an even higher rate. We also learned that our oceans are enormous carbon sinks – but under scenarios with increasing CO2 emissions, our ocean and land carbon sinks are projected to be less effective at slowing the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere.
So the big takeaway here is that in all scenarios, we are very likely to cross the 1.5-degree increase sooner than we thought, and the increase that has happened and will continue to happen is causing irreversible change.
And we are just talking about human-induced climate change. Factoring in natural drivers and variability in our climate like catastrophic events could amplify or reduce climate change. The IPCC report notes that every region is projected to “increasingly experience concurrent and multiple changes in climatic impact-drivers” as global warming increases.
Recap of the IPCC Climate Report
To recap, this report tells us with certainty that: Humans are the main drivers for climate change and that every part of the world is experiencing it. These changes are unlike what we have ever seen. We are likely to extend past the 1.5-degree threshold – causing irreversible damage for decades to come. And that every incremental increase in our global temperature makes a huge difference and is likely to continue to compound on itself with other natural factors.
dealing with bad news
That’s a tough pill to swallow. That scary movie keeps getting more frightening if you will. So if you’ve made it this far, let’s all take a deep breath or two to decompress together.
Hearing bad news like this from leading scientists across the world can cause a slew of negative emotions. But research shows that avoiding these negative emotions can actually cause more stress than just facing the problem head-on. Instead of avoiding what you might be feeling, it is better for our mental and physical health to stay thoroughly informed about what is going on so we can make better decisions and still go about our daily lives without carrying the baggage of things that are out of our control.
So part of being informed means realizing that we do know what we need to do to limit future climate change and that the quicker we act, the more hope we will see. Like yelling at an actor on screen NOT TO GO IN THE DOOR that the killer is hiding, this report allows us to know the outcome of our actions and come up with an alternate ending. It’s not too late to act.
The Good news
The good news is that we are certain what the causes are and how they affect our ecosystems. People are waking up and taking action.
limiting future change
The IPCC says that to limit future climate change, we need to limit cumulative CO2 emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2 emissions to stabilize our climate, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions. They suggest that robust, rapid, and sustained reductions in methane emissions would also limit the warming effect and improve air quality.
We know that human removal of C02 from the atmosphere is possible. And even though climate changes that have already begun will continue in their direction for decades to millennia, we could reach negative C02 emissions that could gradually reduce surface temperatures. Reductions in methane and greenhouse gas emissions would reduce global warming and reduce the amount of air pollution. And, scenarios with low greenhouse gas emissions would have “rapid and sustained effects to limit human-caused climate change and would reduce the variability of natural climate-induced change.”
Solutions and hope
The solution to our problem is working together to let nature heal. Right now, we have made our natural allies weak, but rapidly reducing emissions will allow nature to start the process of stabilizing itself.
We need to reduce our emissions, tell others about what is happening, and demand large-scale action from government and corporations. We have to stay hopeful to reveal our path ahead and find a way out of our current situation. We have hope because have scientists who are continually working to give estimates, tell us what we can do to limit warming, and provide policymakers advice about moving forward without harming our water, land, and biodiversity. Because of this report – there is hope that more people face our climate reality every day, draw closer to each other, and implement solutions to save lives.
I promise you that I will keep you informed and support our community in the best way I know how. My hope for you is that you continue to be kind to yourself, others, and the planet in the best way you know how. Together we can make a change.
IPCC, 2021: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S. L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M. I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T. K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.