United Nations’ Secretary-General António Guterres warned: “The alarm bells are deafening. This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”
The IPCC report says the average global surface temperature from 2011 to 2020 was 1.09 degrees Celsius higher than between 1850 and 1900 and predicts the 1.5C threshold – at which ‘dangerous’ climate change will increasingly occur – will be breached by 2040 under all the carbon-reduction scenarios they considered, even earlier if emissions are not cut dramatically.
It contains some deeply worrying details about what is likely to happen in the coming years.
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation is the ocean current system that includes the North Atlantic Drift, which enables tropical plants to be grown on the west coast of Scotland even in places on the same latitude as southern Alaska.
It is “very likely to weaken” over the 21st century, the report says, adding: “There is medium confidence that there will not be an abrupt collapse before 2100. If such a collapse were to occur, it would very likely cause abrupt shifts in regional weather patterns...”
Sea level rise is “very likely” to continue with extreme sea level events that once happened every 100 years projected to occur “at least annually” at more than half of all tidal gauge locations by 2100.
The recent floods in Germany and China have shocked people all over the world, but after 1.5C of warming “heavy precipitation and associated flooding are projected to intensify and be more frequent in most regions in Africa and Asia, North America and Europe".
Given that vital infrastructure in the UK is already struggling to cope, the dangers should be obvious.
A report last year by Network Rail into the Stonehaven derailment, in which three people died after debris was washed on to the tracks amid heavy rain, concluded climate change was affecting the network more quickly than expected and that it was “simply not economically viable” to make the necessary improvements to all trackside earthworks. “We expect there will still be earthwork failures as a result of challenging weather,” it warned.
‘Dangerous’ climate change is not just about the risk of dying in a suffocating heatwave or being flooded out of your home, it poses a major threat to our everyday way of life on a much greater scale than Covid.
Just as the pandemic affected the global economy, so too will climate change. Commenting on the IPCC report, Professor Nicholas Stern, famed for his landmark 2006 report on the economics of global warming, called on finance ministers “to read this report and recognise the enormous and growing threat that climate change poses to economic development and growth”.
However, he also said that investing in ways to reach net-zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible would “drive sustainable improvements in growth, prosperity and living standards around the world”.
We already know what needs to be done to avoid the worst excesses of global warming. And it should be crystal clear that this is not only in our best interests as a species but also in our economic self-interest. It is, quite literally, the business opportunity of the century.
The question which must be answered at the UN’s Cop26 climate summit in November is whether we will grasp that opportunity and save ourselves or idiotically continue to imagine this is a problem for another time and gamble on the IPCC’s “medium confidence” that the North Atlantic Drift will not abruptly collapse within a lifetime and humanity will also somehow dodge the myriad of other terrifying cataclysms that are now on the horizon and fast approaching.