September 21, 2021

“A Code Red for Humanity”: Major U.N. Report Warns of Climate Catastrophe If Urgent Action Not Taken

6 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: In its first major report in nearly a decade, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned the Earth could face runaway global warming unless drastic efforts are made to eliminate greenhouse gases. The IPCC said humans are, quote, “unequivocally” to blame for the climate crisis, which has already caused “widespread and rapid changes.” Scientists concluded average global temperatures will likely rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels by 2040 based on carbon emissions already in the atmosphere. The report also warns temperatures will continue to rapidly warm after 2040 unless drastic action is taken now.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called the report a “code red for humanity.” He said, quote, “If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as today’s report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses,” he said.
The IPCC held a news conference this morning to release the 3,000-page report, which was worked on by over 200 scientists. Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, addressed the scientists involved in the project.

INGER ANDERSEN: You’ve been telling us for over three decades of the dangers of allowing the planet to warm. The world listened but didn’t hear. The world listened, but it did not act strongly enough. And as a result, climate change is a problem that is here now. Nobody is safe, and it’s getting worse faster. …

We understand that climate change exacerbates already grave risks to biodiversity and natural and managed habitats. Ecosystem degradation damages nature’s ability to reduce the force of climate change. And as the IPCC Working Group I report reminds us, reducing greenhouse gases will not only slow climate change but will improve air quality. It’s all connected.

AMY GOODMAN: Greenpeace UK Executive Director John Sauven said the effects of the climate crisis can already be seen across the globe.

JOHN SAUVEN: You can just read the headlines — you know, the wildfires out of control in Greece and Turkey, the heat domes in California and, you know, British Columbia in Canada, the wildfires out of control in Siberia, the floods in Germany and in China. You just look anywhere around the world, and you see climate catastrophe unfolding. All this report is doing, really, is putting the science behind this, saying that we are now certain this is human-induced.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two of the lead authors of the IPCC report. Bob Kopp is professor and director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Rutgers University. And Kim Cobb is professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Tech.
Professor Cobb, let’s begin with you. You’re one of the lead authors of this report. Can you talk about the scope and the significance of what you found?
KIM COBB: Well, this report is obviously an unprecedented new foundation for our science and our world at this critical moment. It is something that involved hundreds of authors over the last three years and really assessed the relevant scientific literature across 14,000 different articles in the published, peer-reviewed literature to make assessments as to where we are with human-caused climate change and where we’re going and what lies ahead in the choices that we have to make. So, really, a stunning, historic pillar in our field and a reminder of the futures that we have to choose in the next decades.
AMY GOODMAN: The U.N. secretary-general has called the IPCC report “code red for humanity.” What surprised you most about the findings, hundreds of scientists around the world assessing so many of the studies that have taken place over the last years?
KIM COBB: Well, I think one of the things to remember is how far the science has come. We’re going from “virtually certain” human-caused climate change in the last report to “unequivocal” wording for this report in terms of human influence on climate, and thinking about piling up on the absolutely factual column more and more and more aspects of the impacts of climate change. And this report, I think, makes a very strong emphasis on the rising climate and weather extremes, that have been more uncertain in previous reports. This year, the science has — over the last years, the science has matured to the point that a lot of strong wording in this report around the links between human-caused climate change and any number of different climate extremes.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Robert Kopp, talk about the major findings of the report.
BOB KOPP: Sure. So, as my colleague was saying, this report is, in some cases, a sort of an exclamation mark on what the previous reports have already said. So, we’ve known for decades that the world is warming. We know that the changes we’re seeing now are widespread. They’re rapid. They’re intensifying. They’re unprecedented in thousands of years. Carbon dioxide levels are higher than they’ve been in at least 2 million years. Temperatures are higher than they’ve been in at least 100,000 years. Sea level is rising faster than it has in at least 3,000 years. And it’s indisputable that these changes are linked to human activity. And these changes are affecting every inhabited region of the Earth.
Some of them are already locked in. But even for the ones that are going to respond most slowly to reductions in greenhouse gases, like changes in the ice sheets and sea level, we still have the opportunity to slow the rate and ultimate extent of warming. And other changes, like the rise in temperature, can be stopped pretty quickly if we bring our greenhouse gas emissions to net zero.
AMY GOODMAN: What are some — 
BOB KOPP: But —
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.
BOB KOPP: Yeah, sorry. In order to hit the ambitious target laid out in the Paris Agreement of limiting warming to well below 2 degrees C, we’re going to need immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
But the other point I want to make sure comes across, because I think it — you know, you hear this a lot, is that we shouldn’t be thinking about this as though there is a magic line at one-and-a-half degrees or at any level below which we’re safe and above which we’re not. You’re already talking about, as we said, already experiencing more extremes, so we’re already experiencing enhanced hazards as a result of climate change. And every bit of warming, whether it’s above or below one-and-a-half degrees C, increases the risks that we face. So, anything we can to limit the amount of warming will reduce the hazards we’re creating for ourselves.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re an oceans expert, Robert Kopp, so if you can talk about what the greatest sources of sea level rise are expected to be in the next century, and what has happened so far, the major causes of sea level rise?
BOB KOPP: Sure. So, as I already said, sea level is rising now at a faster rate than it has in at least 3,000 years, and it’s rising at an accelerating rate. And this is due to two main factors. The first is the loss of ice on land, from glaciers and from the polar ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland. And the second is the warming of the oceans as the planet heats up. And there’s been a continuing acceleration since about 1970 with ice sheets, in particular, the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheet, driving the increase in the rate of sea level rise over the last 20 years. And of all of the factors that are driving sea level rise, we can clearly tie the expansion of the ocean, the melting of glaciers and the melting of the Greenland ice sheet to human-caused activity. And finally, this is already having effects around the world. So, since the 1960s, we’ve seen nearly a doubling in many coastal sites of the frequency of high water levels.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion with professors Bob Kopp and Kim Cobb, two of the lead reporters on the new IPCC report, just released this morning. We’ll also go to Bangladesh — or, speak to a leading Bangladeshi scientist. Stay with us.
[break]
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