• JD Farrugia

The World Receives Stark Warning on Climate Crisis as the Mediterranean Burns


Photo: Felton Davies

It has been a summer of flooding, heatwaves and widespread wildfires around the globe. From the US to India, lives have been lost, homes and ecosystems have been destroyed, and severe infrastructural damage has been done. In the midst of all this, the leading UN body on climate change, the IPCC, has issued its most stark warning yet. Human-made climate change will impact our lives in the decades to come and we are running out of time to limit these changes from going from bad to catastrophic.


The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a body of top experts and climate scientists. It was formed in 1988 with the objective to “provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies.” The reports they publish, such as the latest one, are vital for the annual international climate negotiations.


On the 7th of August, the IPCC published the first chapters from the upcoming 6th Assessment Report on the global state of the climate crisis. Despite its 4,000 pages of highly technical language, the report paints a worrying picture of the decades to come and its warning is urgent and clear.


Unprecedented warming


“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”
IPCC, AR6 Climate Change 2021

The report, which is the result of the IPCC’s first working group, focuses on the physical science aspect of the climate crisis. It provided information on:

  • The current state of the climate

  • How it is changing

  • How human activity (particularly the burning of fossil fuels) has caused the lion’s share of these changes

  • Different future scenarios depending on how much we allow the planet to warm

  • Region and sector-specific information

  • What needs to be done to limit further warming


History of global temperature change and causes of recent warming (IPCC)

The scale and rate at which many of these changes are happening is also “unprecedented” according to the report’s authors. 2019 saw an atmospheric concentration of CO2 which was higher than any moment in at least 2 million years.


The temperature increase between 2011 and 2020 was also the highest in around 6,500 years. This same decade saw the lowest level of Arctic sea ice area in the past 1,000 years. These are just a few of the statistics highlighted in the report.


Climate futures


With each report, the authors make use of scientific data to create 5 different global and regional scenarios for the future under different levels of warming. In the best-case scenario (SSP1-1.9), we will experience a warming of anywhere between 1 and 1.8 degrees by the end of the century. In the worst (SSP5-8.5), the warming shoots up to anywhere between 3.3 and 5.7C.


Ever since the Paris Agreement in 2015, we have been told that warming the planet above 1.5C would be nothing short of catastrophic. Due to the world’s inaction since then, the report now warns that warming of 1.5C by 2050 is unavoidable and we will see global surface temperatures rise in every scenario. It now depends on whether or not we are willing to risk going any higher than that. This report, we are told, is our final warning.


“If we don’t [cut emissions], by the time of the next IPCC report at the end of this decade, 1.5C will be out the window.”

Joeri Rogelj, director of research at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, and an IPCC lead author.

Changes in annual mean surface temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture (IPCC)

Europe


Europe will experience a rise in temperatures in all scenarios which will be above the global average. In the past few decades, we have already seen stronger and more frequent climate-related events across the continent such as hot extremes and marine heatwaves. The coming decades will also see a decrease in cold spells and frost days and sea-level rise.


Scenarios above 2C spell an absolute disaster for Europe as “critical thresholds relevant for ecosystems and humans” will be surpassed.


The Mediterranean (MED) Region


The MED region (which includes the Balkans) will be subjected to increased hydrological, agricultural and ecological droughts. Warming over 2C will see significant aridity and create much more fire weather conditions (humidity, strong surface wind, unstable air and drought).


This rings particularly true at the moment as Mediterranean countries like North Macedonia, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Albania and Lebanon have been ravaged by fires in the past weeks following record-breaking heatwaves across the region. The EU’s Copernicus Institute has said that the Mediterranean has evolved into a “wildfire hotspot”.


A death knell for coal and fossil fuels?


The report explicitly states that, if we are to limit catastrophic warming above 1.5C, we need to limit CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions significantly and urgently. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres branded the report as a “code red for humanity” calling for world leaders to act immediately.


“This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels before they destroy our planet. There must be no new coal plants built after 2021. OECD countries must phase out existing coal by 2030, with all others following suit by 2040. Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil fuel subsidies into renewable energy. By 2030, solar and wind capacity should quadruple and renewable energy investments should triple to maintain a net-zero trajectory by mid-century.”
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General