Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Night 77° Clear
News >  Nation/World

5 things to know about the new UN report on climate change

Aug. 9, 2021 Updated Mon., Aug. 9, 2021 at 4:32 p.m.

In this Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 photo, a floating dock sits on the lakebed of the Suesca lagoon, in Suesca, Colombia. The lagoon, a popular tourist destination near Bogota that has no tributaries and depends on rain runoff, has radically decreased its water surface due to years of severe droughts in the area and the deforestation and erosion of its surroundings.  (Fernando Vergara)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 photo, a floating dock sits on the lakebed of the Suesca lagoon, in Suesca, Colombia. The lagoon, a popular tourist destination near Bogota that has no tributaries and depends on rain runoff, has radically decreased its water surface due to years of severe droughts in the area and the deforestation and erosion of its surroundings. (Fernando Vergara)
Associated Press

GENEVA — The U.N.-appointed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a new report Monday summarizing the latest authoritative scientific information about global warming. Here are five important takeaways.

Blaming humans

The report says almost all of the warming that has occurred since pre-industrial times was caused by the release of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Much of that is the result of humans burning fossil fuels — coal, oil, wood and natural gas.

The authors say global temperatures have already risen by 2 degrees since the 19th century, reaching their highest in over 100,000 years, and only a fraction of that increase can have come from natural forces.

Paris goals

Almost all countries have signed up to the 2015 Paris climate accord, which aims to limit global warming to an increase of 3.6 degrees above the pre-industrial average by the year 2100. The agreements says that ideally the increase would be no more than 2.7 degrees.

But the report’s 200-plus authors looked at five scenarios and concluded that all will see the world cross the 2.7-degree threshold in the 2030s — sooner than in previous predictions. Three of those scenarios will also see temperatures rise 3.6 degrees.

Dire consequences

The 3,000-plus-page report concludes that ice melt and sea level rise are already accelerating. Wild weather events — from storms to heat waves — are also expected to worsen and become more frequent.

Further warming is “locked in” due to the greenhouse gases humans have already released into the atmosphere. That means even if emissions are drastically cut, some changes will be “irreversible” for centuries, the report said.

Some hope

While many of the report’s predictions paint a grim picture of humans’ impact on the planet and the consequences that will have going forward, the IPCC also found that so-called tipping points, like catastrophic ice sheet collapses and the abrupt slowdown of ocean currents, are “low likelihood,” though they cannot be ruled out.

Big catch

Although temperatures are expected to overshoot the 2.7-degree target in the next decade, the report suggests that warming could be brought back down to this level through what are known as “negative emissions.” That means sucking more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than is added, effectively cooling the planet again. The panel said that could be done starting about halfway through this century but doesn’t explain how, and many scientists are skeptical it’s possible.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.