The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the United Nations (UN) body that assesses the science of climate change — has released its sixth report on the state of the world’s climate. The comprehensive report is the result of 234 authors from 66 countries reviewing more than 14,000 peer-reviewed research articles on climate change.

The report warns that global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least 2050 — and many of the changes due to past and future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia — especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets, and global sea level. The science shows it is critical that countries around the world do more to address climate change.

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António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General. (Photo from Twitter: @antonioguterres)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the report a “Code Red” for humanity. “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.” Guterres points out the world is struggling to keep the global temperature increase below the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

According to IPCC Secretary Abdalah Mokssit, the scale and ambition of the virtual decision-making process was unprecedented, not just for the IPCC, but for the UN system more broadly. Over the course of 11 meeting days, about 300 delegates engaged in virtual meetings and a line-by-line approval of the report.

The report’s Summary for Policymakers (SPM), which approved on  August 6 2021, provides a comprehensive assessment of the physical science underpinning past, present, and future climate change. Many delegates underscored that the SPM and the underlying report will be a key input for intergovernmental negotiations at the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, scheduled to take place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021.

Some of the key points of the report include:

  • Human actions have warmed the climate system;
  • With further global warming, every region is projected to experience changes, with extremes, such as heavy precipitation, becoming greater in frequency and intensity;
  • Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered;
  • Unless there are deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHG emissions in the coming decades, 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century; and
  • The effects of strong, rapid, and sustained emission reductions in terms of global surface temperature trends will begin to emerge after approximately 20 years.

In Canada, scientists and policymakers have made a clear link between climate change and more frequent and powerful weather events, including heat waves, wildfires, flooding and sea ice loss.

“The wide-ranging IPCC report has unquestionable international implications. But it also matters here at home. Canada is warming at nearly twice the global rate. Parts of western and northern Canada are warming at three times the global average,” stated Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

Canada has joined more than 120 countries—including all G7 countries—to commit to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The recently passed Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act turned Canada’s net-zero goal into law. Reaching net-zero emissions is what the IPCC report reiterates the world must achieve in order to minimize global warming.

Featured image: In Canada, we don’t need to look far to see the impacts of climate change, including melting glaciers, thawing permafrost, sea-level rise, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and hurricanes. The featured image is wildfire in Alberta.

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