The effects of climate change are real, they are happening now, some are irreversible and will last for centuries even in the best of scenarios. The conclusions of the latest report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the group of experts linked to the UN, are a red alert for humanity. Presented yesterday, it is the most complete and accurate report to date, and it forcefully closes the door on skeptics who have been clinging to science’s margins of error for three decades to question what their own eyes see. For the first time, the IPCC states that there is absolutely no doubt that it is human activity, mainly through the burning of fossil fuels, that causes the accumulation of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and raise the planet temperature. That debate, if it was ever relevant, ended yesterday.
The IPCC ensures that the planet’s average temperature has risen 1.1 degrees Celsius from pre-industrialization levels in the mid-nineteenth century. It is the fastest temperature rise in 2,000 years. Extreme phenomena similar to the floods in Germany and China, or the fires in Greece and the American West, are a consequence of these developments. Seven of the ten largest fires in California, for example, have occurred in the last five years.
In addition, the report ensures that long-term changes are already underway. The IPCC considers it inevitable that, whatever humanity does, warming will reach 1.5 degrees by the middle of this century. In that world, droughts that happened a couple of times every century will start to happen a couple of times every decade. The sea level will rise at least 40 centimeters. Institutions, and the whole of society, must start preparing to defend the most fragile coasts from ever more frequent floods. The debate is not whether or not it will happen. The debate is whether we will arrive in time to adapt to that world and whether we are capable of mitigating it.
Because that would be the best scenario, if there were a truly aggressive and immediate emissions cut. To achieve this, the world’s most polluting economies (China, the US and the EU, mainly) must lead the planet in setting and meeting emission reduction targets that will stop adding gases to the atmosphere by 2050. The opportunity will be at the Summit Climate World Cup, next November in Glasgow. For all levels of administration, the transition towards an economy with minimal polluting emissions must be a central and transversal objective, which permeates all public policies.
For this, the future outlined by the IPCC report should be sufficient incentive if nothing were to be done. The temperature could increase by up to four degrees on average in this century, irreversibly melting the Arctic and making human life as we know it in much of the planet impossible. The consequences of our actions will be suffered at the end of this century by children born in this decade. Experts repeat that what is in danger is not the Earth: it is humanity, just an anecdote in the history of this planet. So that it does not disappear before its time, the generation of leaders that must act is the one that governs today. The time to avoid it is now. There will be no other.