A major new United Nations report being released on Monday is expected to provide a sobering reminder that time is running out if humanity wants to avoid passing a dangerous global warming threshold.
The report by hundreds of the world’s top scientists is the capstone of a series that summarises the research on global warming compiled since the Paris climate accord was agreed upon in 2015.
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It was approved by countries at the end of a weeklong meeting of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in the Swiss town of Interlaken, meaning governments have accepted its findings as authoritative advice on which to base their actions.
At the start of the meeting, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned delegates the planet is “nearing the point of no return” and they risk missing the internationally agreed limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming since pre-industrial times.
That is because global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases keep increasing – mainly because of the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and intensive agriculture – when in fact they need to decline quickly.
Governments agreed in Paris almost eight years ago to try to limit temperature rise to 1.5C or at least keep it well below 2C (3.6F). Since then scientists have increasingly argued any warming beyond the lower threshold would put humanity at dire risk.
Average global temperatures have already increased by 1.1C (2F) since the 19th century, but Guterres insisted last week the 1.5C target limit remains possible “with rapid and deep emissions reductions across all sectors of the global economy”.
Monday’s report comes after the IPCC made clear two years ago that climate change is clearly caused by human activity and refined its predictions for a range of possible scenarios depending on how much greenhouse gas continues to be released.
The following year, it published a report concluding the effects of global warming are already being felt and nearly half the world’s population are “highly vulnerable to climate change”. Two months later, it laid out what needs to be done to reduce the harm from warming that is already inevitable and prevent a further dangerous rise in temperatures; the sharp drop in solar and wind power costs would make that easier, it noted.
Three further special reports by the IPCC focused on the oceans, land and 1.5C target. The next round of reports will not be published until the second half of this decade, by when experts say it could be too late to take further measures, allowing that ambitious goal to still be met.
Governments agreed at last year’s climate summit in Egypt to create a fund to help pay for the damage that a warming planet is inflicting on vulnerable countries, but failed to commit to new measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The new synthesis report published on Monday will play a pivotal role when governments gather in Dubai in December for this year’s UN climate talks. The meeting will be the first to take stock of global efforts to cut emissions since the Paris deal, and hear calls from poorer nations seeking more aid.
Guterres has said fossil fuel companies should hand over some of their vast profits to help victims of climate change.
“Overall, this report is another nail in the coffin of the fossil fuel industry,” said Stephan Singer of Climate Action Network International
“The new IPCC report shows the writing clearly on the wall. Governments have no excuse to ignore the emphatic warning for this critical decade. They must act fast to reject fossil fuels and stop any new expansion of oil, gas and coal.”
Oxfam’s climate policy lead Nafkote Dabi said: “This is, literally, the last chapter. The science shows that limiting global heating to 1.5C is still possible – but only just. Unless we pull the emergency brake on deadly carbon pollution, ‘unheard-of’ heatwaves, storms, droughts and floods will continue to become more frequent and hit more places and people.”