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‘Code Red for Humanity’ – IPCC Report on Climate Change

‘Code Red for Humanity’ – IPCC Report on Climate Change
August 16, 2021 Aaron Williams

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced a report on the most up to date physical understanding of climate change. The IPCC report, the sixth of its kind since 1988 and first since 2013, combines the work of hundreds of scientists, experts, and peer-reviewed studies. [1] The key announcements coming from the report are that “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” and “The scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole and the present state of many aspects of the climate system are unprecedented”. [2]

The report was delayed in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, provides a timely and significant reminder for world leaders in the lead up to COP26. COP26 is the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, due to be hosted in Glasgow this November, and represents the most important climate change conference since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

Boris Johnson said, “Today’s report makes for sobering reading, and it is clear that the next decade is going to be pivotal to securing the future of our planet…I hope today’s report will be a wake-up call for the world to take action now, before we meet in Glasgow in November for the critical Cop26 summit.” [3]

Code Red for Humanity

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “Today’s IPCC Working Group 1 Report is a ‘code red’ for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk…This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”

Key Findings

The key findings of the IPCC report are that global temperatures have risen by degrees 1.09 Celsius when compared to the pre-industrial levels (1850-1900), the past 5 years have been the hottest on record, sea levels rise has nearly tripled when compared with 1901-1971, human action is very likely the main driver of the decrease in the arctic sea-ice, and that hot extremes (including heatwaves) have become more frequent whilst cold event less frequent and severe. [4]

Compounding of Effects 

Significant and timely action is required by world leaders if temperatures are not to rise above 1.5C above pre-industrial levels – the ambitious aim of the Paris Climate Agreement. This goal the IPCC have explained is still possible “but only just” if emissions are cut in the next decade; however, if action is not taken “by the time of the next IPCC report at the end of this decade, 1.5C will be out the window.” [5]

The compounding effect of climate change means that every fraction of a degree is important. Dr Stephen Cornelius, WWF global lead on the IPCC said, “This is a stark assessment of the frightening future that awaits us if we fail to act. With the world on the brink of irreversible harm, every fraction of a degree of warming matters to limit the dangers of climate change.”

Although a 1.5C degree rise would be preferable to a 2C rise, the absolute limit of the Paris Climate Agreement, with a 1.5C rise there will still be an increase in extreme weather events such as heatwaves, storms, droughts, and floods. However, as Diann Black-Layne, Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda, Lead Climate Negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States: “The stark fact is that if we keep warming to 1.5C, we are still facing half a metre of sea level rise. But if we stop warming from reaching 2C, we can avoid a long-term three metres of sea level rise. That is our very future, right there.” [6]

The IPCC report also highlight what the outlook is going forward such an increase in fire weather in many regions, the arctic being ice free in September at least once before 2050, and temperatures will reach 1.5C by 2040 under all emissions scenarios. [7]


The conclusions of the IPCC report will not come as a surprise to many who have been following the many warnings that climate scientists have been making for many years of the anthropogenic causes of climate change and the potential for future extreme weather events. These weather events are already significant and increasing in their scale and disruption. On Wednesday the 11th of August the highest temperature in European history was recorded in Italy at 48.8C, [8] flooding has devastated Germany and Belgium in July, [9] and in August wildfires in Siberia have reached the north pole for the first time in recorded history. [10] For world leaders, recent weather events and the IPCC report may act as a catalyst for drastic changes that will need to be progressed at the COP26 conference in Glasgow this November.

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[1] https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-working-group-i/
[2] https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_Headline_Statements.pdf
[3] https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/reactions-landmark-un-climate-science-report-2021-08-09/
[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-58130705
[5] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/aug/09/humans-have-caused-unprecedented-and-irreversible-change-to-climate-scientists-warn
[6] https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/reactions-landmark-un-climate-science-report-2021-08-09/
[7] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-58130705
[8] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/11/sicily-logs-488c-temperature-possibly-highest-ever-recorded-for-europe
[9] https://www.politico.eu/article/belgium-germany-unimaginable-piles-flood-trash-garbage/
[10] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/09/smoke-siberia-wildfires-reaches-north-pole-historic-first


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