Major Climate Change Report Warns of ‘Code Red for Humanity’

Weather disasters are ‘going to get worse’ unless countries act now to lower emissions

Structures burn in Dixie Fire
The Dixie Fire was named California's second largest fire, and it is still only 21 percent contained as of this week. Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

A new United Nations report on global warming predicts worsening climate disasters in the next decade. However, scientists are optimistic that if emissions are cut in half by 2030, the trend toward higher temperatures could be halted and possibly reversed.

“It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide,” Linda Mearns, a senior climate scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, tells Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press.

Published by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the report warns that climate change is definitely human caused and weather forecasts are only going to get worse. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it “code red for humanity,” reports Brady Dennis and Sarah Kaplan of the Washington Post.

Mearns, co-author of the IPCC report, says extreme weather is already a factor in many places of the world. Heat waves and drought are driving wildfires in the western United States while extreme heat is fueling fires in Greece and Turkey, she tells AP.

“It is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change,” says Ko Barrett, IPCC vice chair and senior climate adviser at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tells science reporter Rebecca Hersher of NPR. “Each of the last four decades has been the warmest on record since preindustrial times.”

To rein in worsening weather disasters, the report states the world’s countries need to achieve “net zero” emissions by the middle of this century.

“The thought before was that we could get increasing temperatures even after net zero,” report co-author Piers Forster, a professor of physical climate change at the University of Leeds, tells Matt McGrath of BBC News. “But we now expect nature to be kind to us and if we are able to achieve net zero, we hopefully won’t get any further temperature increase; and if we are able to achieve net-zero greenhouse gases, we should eventually be able to reverse some of that temperature increase and get some cooling.”

The report warns that countries need to limit global warming from exceeding 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above late 19th-century levels. The world has already heated up 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since then, while the last five years have been the hottest on record since 1850. Sea level rise has nearly tripled since 1901-1971.

“Our report shows that we need to be prepared for going into that level of warming in the coming decades,” IPCC working group co-chair Valerie Masson-Delmotte of the Laboratory of Climate and Environment Sciences at the University of Paris-Saclay tells AP. “But we can avoid further levels of warming by acting on greenhouse gas emissions.”

While countries grapple with lowering industrial and agricultural emissions, the Natural Resources Defense Council says individuals and families can lower their carbon footprint by powering homes with renewable energy, weatherizing houses, investing in energy-efficient appliances, reducing water waste, using energy-efficient lightbulbs, unplugging unused electronics, driving fuel-efficient vehicles and using mass transportation.

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