Extreme weather is the ‘new normal’ (among other depressing climate projections)

Despite the Paris Agreement on climate change and commitments by countries, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising while weather extremes are now becoming the new normal, according to a report presented at the COP25 climate summit in Madrid.

UNFCCC’s head Patricia Espinosa (center) talks about the science behind climate change at COP25

The report “10 New Insights in Climate Science” summarized the most recent scientific advances on climate change over the past year, including drivers, effects and impacts. The publication was done by Future Earth and The Earth League, global organizations representing networks of global sustainability scientists.

“Climate change is happening much faster and stronger than we ever expected. We are all under threat if this continues,” Patricia Espinosa, UN climate change head, said. “We must act right now, and we have no time to waste.”

Each of the 10 insights included in the report was reviewed by leading scientists so to provide a proper summary of the latest climate science. The report comes after recent publications by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which also warned over the need to act.

The world is not on track

The report warned that the world is not on track to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, as stipulated in the Paris Agreement. Green energy is growing, and some countries are phasing out coal power, but at the same time, the fossil industry is expanding.

“This year was a bad one for the climate system and for humanity. We have more evidence than ever before of the impacts of climate change on communities across the globe,” Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-author of the report, said.

Climate change is faster and stronger than expected

Greenhouse gas emissions are growing at an unprecedented pace, according to the report. The world has already reached global warming of 1.1 degrees Celsius and is in line of exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius barrier by 2030, instead of the initial projections of 2040.

At the same time, sea-level is rising much faster than expected, now at three times higher than the average for the 20th century. There are signs of accelerated degradation in stable components of the Earth system such as Greenland, which could lead to a further sea-level rise.

Climate change leaves no mountain summit behind

Among those affected by climate change, mountains rank high. The level of snow, ice and permafrost are diminishing as well as glaciers, all affecting water availability and increasing natural hazards. More than a billion people worldwide could be affected because of this.

At the same time, climate change is also affecting the ecosystems in the mountains and their biodiversity. This is leading to a reduction of biodiversity hotspots and a growing number of species that go extinct every year. Indigenous and local knowledge could help reduce the damage, the report argued.

Forests are under threat, with global consequences

Global forests absorb about a third of the greenhouse gas emissions, making them major carbon dioxide sinks. Nevertheless, they are under risk because of human-driven forest fires – amplified by climate change.

A growing number of forest fires have been reported in the United States, Alaska, Canada, Russia, and Australia, mainly linked to a prolonged drought. At the same time, growing emissions from land-use changes were registered in western Ethiopia and western tropical Africa.

Weather extremes – a “new normal”

The idea of an extreme weather event is now being reconsidered because of climate change, the report argued. What was before considered rare in frequency and intensity now is part of the new normal, with extreme weather and climate events happening throughout the year.

This has had a cost not only an environmental cost but also material and human one, forcing societies to adapt to such events. Regions are being affected in many ways by rainfall extremes and heatwaves, unusual weather patterns and warmer and higher seas.

Biodiversity – threatened guardian of earth’s resilience

Global warming of between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius would lead to losses between 14% and 99% of biodiversity on land, coral reefs, and fish populations, according to the report.

Biodiversity is a key element of stable ecosystems as it provides carbon stocks and sinks, among many other services to humanity. It is the guardian of the Earth’s system resilience against disruption from greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change threatens food security and the health of hundreds of millions

One of the main health risks of climate change will be undernutrition, according to the report, as many regions will face a decline in agricultural productivity such as drylands in Africa and mountain regions in Asia and South America.

At the same time, a growing amount of greenhouse gases released to the atmosphere would reduce the nutritional quality of cereal crops. Agricultural yields are already being reduced because of climate change, especially in the tropics, as well as global fish stocks.

Most vulnerable and poor hardest hit by climate change

Not dealing with climate change would have negative consequences for hundreds of millions across the globe but the poorest are set to be the most affected, according to the report, affecting development in developing countries.

The poor are more vulnerable to climate events such as droughts, floods, high temperatures, and many other disasters, with a reduced capacity to adapt. The frequency of climate events is set to increase, which means escaping poverty will get more difficult.

More than 100 million people could be pushed below the poverty line by 2030, according to the report, while the number of climate migrants is also expected to grow.

Equity and equality pivotal to successful climate change mitigation and adaptation

Social justice is a key factor for societal change as part of climate change, the report argued. Inequality threatens the ability of the civilization to survive climate change and other environmental changes, having contributed in the past to the collapse of civilizations when resources were depleted.

Whether a climate policy is able to be successful or not will depend on social acceptance, with justice, fairness, and the equitable distribution of costs important for public support of policy and avoiding nationalist sentiments.

Time may have come for social tipping points on climate action

There is a growing number of people in many countries that are seriously concerned about climate change, according to many surveys. Recent massive climate protests also show that, with people asking for further climate action.

Nevertheless, the report argued, policy measures need to accompany behavioral change — and deep and long-term transformations driven by a great diversity of actors are needed to meet the Paris Agreement and the SDGs.

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