Governments have delayed curbing their fossil-fuel emissions for so long that they can no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years.
That’s according to a landmark report released on Monday of this week.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding, and a key temperature limit being broken in just over a decade.
It suggested that the blistering heatwaves, horrifying wildfires and devastating floods experienced across the globe are just the start of a new future created by climate change.
The report added that the very worst case scenario can be avoided—but only if governments take action now to limit global heating.
That means drastically cutting greenhouse gases and carbon emissions created by burning fossil fuels.
The IPCC report said, “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land.”
Its authors say that since 1970, global surface temperatures have risen faster than in any other 50-year period over the past 2,000 years.
This is largely due to burning coal, oil and gas for energy.
The heating that this has caused has “already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe,” the report’s authors say.
They add that links between human influence and extreme weather events such as heatwaves and forest fires “has strengthened” over the past decade.
Some changes, such as rising sea levels, are cemented and are irreversible.
One of the report’s authors, Professor Ed Hawkins, said, “The consequences will continue to get worse for every bit of warming. And for many of these consequences, there’s no going back.” United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres said the report is “a code red for humanity.”
He added, “If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as today’s report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses.”
Human activity has already heated the planet by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius since the 19th century.
The report warns that if this rises to 2 degrees Celsius, critical thresholds for heat extremes would drastically damage health and agriculture.
Governments all said they accepted the report’s findings. But acting on those findings means breaking completely with the fossil fuel industry.
They have already failed to act after the last IPCC report, released in 2019, warned that there were only 12 years left to avoid the worst-case scenario for climate change.
The report fuelled and inspired new, militant climate change movements such as the school students’ strikes and Extinction Rebellion. We need renewed resistance to take on the system that puts fossil fuel profits ahead of the future of the planet.
More urgent than ever to protest at climate conference in Glasgow
The report comes as government leaders are set to gather for the Cop26 climate change conference in Glasgow in November.
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said, “I count on government leaders and all stakeholders to ensure Cop26 is a success.”
But previous Cop conferences show we can’t expect them to resolve the crisis.
The Cop21 climate talks in Paris, held in 2015, set the supposedly landmark target of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Centigrade—still far too high.
But governments are on course to fail to meet even that target thanks to their commitment to the fossil fuel industry.
Doug Parr, the chief scientist at pressure group Greenpeace UK said, “This is not the first generation of world leaders to be warned by scientists about the gravity of the climate crisis, but they’re the last that can afford to ignore them.
“The increasing frequency, scale and intensity of climate disasters that have scorched and flooded many parts of the world in recent months is the result of past inaction.
“Unless world leaders finally start to act on these warnings, things will get much, much worse.”
The conference in Glasgow has to be a target for a revived climate change movement.
School climate strikes and action by Extinction Rebellion forced the Tories to pledge to limit carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. In reality, 2050 is far too late—but their concession showed the power that organised resistance can have.