On Monday morning millions of smartphone users awoke to a flurry of push alerts from news organizations touting urgent, ground-breaking news: what Bloomberg described as an "epochal" new report from "the world's top climate scientists" warned that the planet will likely warm by 1.5ºC over the next two decades...without a dramatic reduction in emissions resulting from a change in human activity.
The report represents the latest update from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Although scientists have been warning for years that climate change represents an apocalyptic threat to the human race (it's the stated motive behind Elon Musk's mission to Mars), this latest report "for the first time speaks with certainty about the total responsibility of human activity for rising temperatures"...so human responsibility for climate change hasn't been a 'sure thing' in the eyes of science...until now? CNN added that the scientific community has concluded for the first time that human responsibility is "unequivocal".
"It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land," wrote the authors of the IPCC’s sixth global science assessment since 1990 and the first released in more than eight years. The crucial warming threshold of 2°C will be "exceeded during the 21st century," the IPCC authors concluded, without deep emissions cuts “in the coming decades."
Bloomberg explains it thusly, while also noting the timing of the report, arriving just three months before the UN's next round of climate talks - setting up three months of media programming about the importance of these talks:
"More than any other forecast or record, this report’s determinations establish a powerful global consensus less than three months before the UN’s COP26 international climate talks."
Here are some of the key findings and details from the 3,949-page report, which was released alongside a 42-page "summary for policymakers". The report was signed by 234 scientists from 60 countries. Temperatures will continue to rise until "at least" 2050, causing "further extreme weather events." And without “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions" reductions, stopping global warming will be impossible, as the global temperature will likely rise 2C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.
- The world has already risen 1.1ºC from pre-industrial levels, and is likely to temporarily reach 1.5C of warming within 20 years even in a "best-case scenario" where greenhouse gas emissions see "deep" reductions.
- The past decade was most likely hotter than any period in the last 125,000 years, when sea levels were as much as 10 meters higher. Combustion and deforestation have also raised carbon dioxide in the atmosphere higher than they’ve been in two million years, according to the report, and agriculture and fossil fuels have contributed to methane and nitrous oxide concentration higher than any point in at least 800,000 years.
- The document is “a code red for humanity,” said Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, in prepared remarks tied to the release. “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels before they destroy our planet.”
- The pledges from Paris Climate Accord signatories is "“insufficient to reduce greenhouse gas emission enough” to keep global warming well below 2°C.
- The more temperatures rise beyond 2°C, the worse the impact will be. Like with anything, climate change risks triggering feedback loops, as rising temperatures cause more Arctic ice to melt, unlocking carbon buried deep in the permafrost, which could make its way into the atmosphere.
- US special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry said the findings underscored “the overwhelming urgency of this moment”.
- Saudi Arabia allegedly tried tampering with the report, per the FT: In virtual negotiations KSA objected to some of the wording of the summary as representatives of the oil-exporting powerhouse sought to replace references to "carbon emissions" with "greenhouse gas emissions". But "the science prevailed". Funny, we thought those phrases were synonymous.
- For the first time, the report apparently ties climate change to incidents of "extreme weather". The deadly heat wave that killed hundreds this summer in the North American Pacific Northwest would have been "virtually impossible" without the climate crisis. The IPCC says heavy rainfall that used to occur once every 10 years now occurs 30% more frequently, with droughts occurring more than 70% more often.
- Ocean levels have climbed by 8 inches (on average) over the past century, and the rate of increase has doubled since 2006.
- The AP called this next detail the "Big Catch" from the report: Meeting the most ambitious goal of the Paris accord, which involves keeping temperature increases to 1.5°C by the end of the century, is believed to only be possible via what is known as "negative emissions": That means sucking more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than is added. In other words, being "emissions neutral" or "zero emissions" or whatever American Tech giants like Microsoft are calling it these days, is no longer enough.
- Just 25 big cities - almost all of them in China - accounted for more than half of the climate-warming gases pumped out by a sample of 167 urban hubs around the world.
This last point caught our eye. And despite the fact that the report ran to thousands of pages, it doesn't appear to say much about the blame shouldered by China. It's not difficult to imagine why: the UN fears angering Beijing, potentially jeopardizing any compromises by China in climate change fight (inroads were supposedly made during a climate summit organized by President Biden earlier this year, where the president promised to slash US emissions by 50%).
Though the report spends plenty of time bashing the western-led Paris Accords for not doing nearly enough, like a bandaid on a gunshot wound.
That there is "no solution to climate change without Beijing" is hardly a new refrain.
Cities play a critical role in reducing emissions since most of the emissions are generated by cities (since most humans live in cities, even across the emerging world). At least 23 Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Handan, accounted for the largest share of urban emissions for any single country. Moscow and Tokyo were also highlighted as major contributors.
And there's reason to believe the UN figures underestimate the total contribution from Chinese cities. In many cases, researchers were only able to obtain older data, in some cases the most recent figures were from 2005, to use as a basis for their projections. This makes comparisons "tricky", one scientist noted.
Unsurprisingly, the media greeted the report with screaming headlines warning about humanity's "last chance" to save the planet (and, by extension, Obama's last chance to save his $14MM beachfront manse where he held his birthday bash).
One of the most hilarious examples of ham-fisted fearmongering came courtesy of CNN, which used this photo to tease its story on the report.
One twitter user joked that perhaps the world should "lock down for good" (because, remember, the upside of lockdowns is a dramatic reduction in emissions, like we're seeing in China).
#TheProjectTV just declared, “the impact of climate change will be far worse than COVID-19”.
I guess we best lockdown for good.
Because the media says so.
Fear porn sells. No matter what fear.
Please don’t fall for it.
— Avi Yemini (@OzraeliAvi) August 9, 2021
Because, when the population no longer seems to be responding to the COVID fearmongering...
...it's probably time to pivot back to fearmongering about climate change.